Conservative party loses
3 MPs to the new group
formed by 7 Labour MPs.
An 8th Labour MP joins.
Team total so far: 11
2019 February 20
Record German Export Surplus
Germany ran the world's largest trade surplus in 2018. German sales of goods and services overseas last year outstripped its imports by
€249 billion. This was by far the widest in the world.
AR Make things people want to buy — sounds good to me.
Honda Abandons Brexit Britain
Japanese company Honda is closing its car plant in Swindon.
Access to the EU market caused global car companies to locate in the UK. Friction between the UK and the EU hinders their operations.
The car industry involves massive economies of scale, and the supply chains cannot be confined to the UK.
Other car companies will cut production in the UK. Uncertain access to the EU market after Brexit is a reason. Whatever the
final relationship between the UK and the EU, the tactic of running down the clock to March 29 carries costs.
Global car companies will tend to avoid Brexit Britain.
AR Japan will see Brexit Britain as a failing state.
British Labour Antisemitism Split
Labour MP Ruth George says the seven MPs who quit the party might be secretly funded by Israel. They are resigning over Jeremy
Corbyn's handling of antisemitism in the party as well as Brexit.
AR Labour and antisemitism — fatal.
2019 February 19
Islamophobia is now a central part of politics in most major capitals worldwide. And countries that were once seen as strongholds of moderate
Islam are witnessing a rise in radical Islamism.
✠ China has imprisoned more than a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in mass internment camps.
International slowness to protest may reflect an increasingly hostile attitude to Muslim minorities in other parts of the world.
✠ India is governed by Hindu nationalists. BJP militants regard Islam as alien to India. About
1 in 7 of the Indian population is Muslim, but there was no Muslim among the 282 BJP MPs in 2014.
✠ In America since 9/11, many more American civilians have fallen victim to school shootings
than to Islamist terrorists, but anti-Muslim rhetoric by US politicians has become more pronounced.
✠ In Europe, mass migration has produced a surge in support for nationalist and Islamophobic
parties. Such parties are now in government in Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Poland.
✠ In Turkey, secularists fear the president will Islamize their country.
✠ In Pakistan, Islamists use blasphemy laws as a weapon.
A clash of civilizations is emerging.
AR I think monotheism needs an upgrade.
2019 February 18
Climate: Time to Panic
Last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing climate effects at 1.5 K and 2 K of global warming.
The report gave good reason for scientists worldwide to freak out. This is progress.
Alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons:
1 Climate change is a crisis because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global
response. The emissions path we are on today is likely to take us to 1.5 K of warming by 2040 and 2 K within decades after that. Many
big cities in the Mideast and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer. Coastal cities worldwide would be threatened with inundation.
Many millions of people would flee droughts, floods, and extreme heat. It is right to be alarmed.
2 Catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. For years, we
have pictured a landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of 2 K, the ceiling of
suffering. In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between 2 K and 4 K of
3 Complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism. A national survey showed a
majority of Americans were unwilling to spend even $10 a month to address global warming, and most drew the line at $1 a month. If we delay
the decarbonization effort by another decade, we will have to cut emissions by some 9% each year. We have to get started now.
4 Our mental reflexes run toward disbelief in the possibility of very bad outcomes. Complacency is
hard to shake. Cognitive biases distort and distend our perception of a changing climate. All the biases that push us toward complacency
are abetted by our storytelling about warming.
Individual lifestyle choices are trivial compared with what politics can achieve. Buying an electric car is a drop in the
bucket compared with raising car-emission standards sharply. Flying less is a lot easier if high-speed rail is an option. Politics is a
Brexit: The Movie
Ben Aston and I discuss Brexit at Bournemouth University on February 14 (YouTube: 1 hr, 45 min, 39 sec)
2019 February 17
Brexit: May Could Lose
Theresa May might well lose the Commons vote on her Brexit deal on February 27. Cabinet sources fear this would let parliament seize control
of the Brexit negotiations. On the same day, MPs are due to vote on an amendment by Yvette Cooper and Sir Oliver Letwin that would force
May to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit.
A cabinet minister: "We may lose Brexit altogether."
AR That loss would give me occasion to celebrate for the first time in three years.
2019 February 16
At the Munich Security Conference, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned of a collapse of the international order into tiny parts: "Do we fall
apart into pieces of a puzzle and think everyone can solve the question best for himself alone?"
On the Russian and American decision to cancel the 1987 INF treaty: "Disarmament is something that concerns us all, and where we
would, of course, be delighted if such talks were held not just between the United States, Europe and Russia, but also with China."
Merkel said German defense spending is due to reach 1.5% by 2024 and that development spending in Africa also brought greater
security: "We have to think in networked structures. The military component is one of them. We need NATO as a stability anchor in stormy
times. We need it as a community of values."
Munich Security Conference
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel: "Wir leben in einem Zeitalter, in dem die Spuren des Menschen so tief in die Erde eindringen,
dass auch die nachfolgenden Generationen sie sehen können .. Who will pick up the pieces? .. Nur wir alle zusammen."
Merkel erinnerte daran, dass sich auch Deutschland bewegen müsse, wenn Europa eine gemeinsame militärische Kultur
entwickeln wolle. Wenn man mit Frankreich über gemeinsame Rüstungsprojekte rede, müsse man sich auch auf eine gemeinsame
Politik bei den Rüstungsexporten einigen.
Brexit Strategy Failed
Theresa May will face a wall of resistance when she returns to Brussels next week. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told diplomats from EU
member states her Brexit strategy had "failed" after her latest parliamentary defeat and that her strategy could not work.
An ambassador: "We have a major problem."
2019 February 15
The New York Times
President Trump is planning to take executive overreach to new heights. Cornered into accepting a budget deal that lacks the $5.7 billion in
border wall funding he demanded, the president has a solution: Sign the bill while simultaneously declaring a national emergency that lets
him shift funds and order the military to start building his wall.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated
before, he will also take other executive action, including a national emergency, to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian
crisis at the border."
The influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis. There is a worsening
humanitarian crisis, actively fueled by the policies of the administration. The suffering requires thoughtful policy adjustments, not a wall.
Confronted with this power grab, every lawmaker should be bellowing in alarm. Until recently, the threat of an imperial presidency
was of grave constitutional concern to Republicans, who accused President Obama of misusing executive authority.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people."
Trump: "I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want."
AR And the House has the right to do impeachment.
In 1925, Erwin Schrödinger wrote an equation to describe the wavy nature of quantum particles. The Schrödinger equation ascribes to a
particle a wave function, φ, whose amplitude determines the particle's behavior.
In 1926, Max Born suggested interpreting the wave function in terms of probability. He said the amplitude of the wave function at
position x is related to the probability of finding the particle at x in a measurement: The probability is given by
the product φ*φ of the wave function φ with its complex conjugate φ*.
Lluís Masanes, Thomas Galley, and Markus Müller (MGM) show that the Born rule follows from basic postulates of quantum
mechanics, given a few basic assumptions:
1 Quantum states are formulated as vectors.
2 So long as a particle is not measured, it evolves so as to preserve information.
3 How you group the parts of a system is irrelevant to a measurement outcome.
4 A measurement on a quantum system produces a unique outcome.
MGM do not assume the technical requirements of quantum mechanics directly. Instead, they derive them, like the Born rule, from the
Adán Cabello assumes there is no underlying physical law that dictates measurement outcomes. Every outcome can happen if it
is consistent with the outcome probabilities of different experiments. He shows that quantum measurement outcomes follow the Born rule as a
matter of logic.
In both approaches, quantum theory is founded on simple postulates.
2019 February 14
Brexit: May Defeat
House of Commons, 1745 UTC
MPs have delivered a blow to Theresa May's authority by rejecting her motion by 303 votes to 258:
Motion: "That this House welcomes the prime minister's statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach
to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland
backstop are ongoing."
"When the chips are down, [Theresa May] will actually prefer to do what some of my esteemed colleagues prefer, and to head for the exit door
without a deal, which the secretary of state informed us is the policy of Her Majesty's government in the event that her deal has not succeeded.
That is terrifying fact."
— Sir Oliver Letwin
AR Depose her.
Brexit: Insurmountable Impact
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte says Britain is a diminished country after its vote for Brexit.
Rutte says companies are shifting offices and staff to The Netherlands from the UK: "Every businessman I speak to from the UK
is saying they will cut investments, cut their business in the UK. It will have an insurmountable impact on the UK."
Rutte: "We have to realise we are not toothless, we have our means of power as the EU."
Brexit: National Crisis
Sir Nigel Sheinwald et al.
As former diplomats, our advice to Theresa May is that we should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. We must
seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period.
Brexit has turned into a national crisis. There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one
we have today as members of the EU with a seat at the table.
There is now a powerful argument to go back to the people and ask them whether they want the negotiated Brexit deal or would
prefer to stay in the EU.
— Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Lord Kerr, Lord Hannay, .. [total > 40]
Brexit: Dark Money
The Brexit referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. Both of the main leave campaigns were fined for illegal activities. But the
government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events.
Since mid-January, Britain's Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Britain's Future
has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it, and who has been paying for these ads.
British rules governing funding for political parties, elections, and referendums are next to useless. They were last redrafted
19 years ago, when online campaigning had scarcely begun. The Electoral Commission has none of the powers required to regulate online campaigning.
The UK government wants to keep the system as it is.
How Brains Code Time
Marc Howard and Karthik Shankar have built a mathematical model of how the brain might encode time: As sensory neurons fire in response to an
unfolding event, the brain maps the temporal component of that activity to a representation of the experience in a Laplace transform. The
brain preserves information about the event as a function of a variable it can encode and then maps it back into an inverse Laplace transform
to reconstruct a compressed record.
There are "time cell" neurons in the brain, each tuned to fire at certain points in a span of time, with different frequencies,
to bridge time gaps between experiences. One can look at the firings and determine when a stimulus was presented from which cells fired.
This is the inverse Laplace transform part of the model.
The medial and lateral entorhinal cortex provide input to the hippocampus, which generates episodic memories of experiences that
occur at a particular time in a particular place. Albert Tsao knew the medial entorhinal cortex was responsible for mapping place and guessed
the lateral entorhinal cortex harbored a signal of time.
Tsao examined the neural activity in the lateral entorhinal cortex of rats as they foraged for food. In the trials, the firing
rates of the neurons spiked when the rat entered the box and decreased at varying rates as time passed. That activity ramped up again at the
start of the next trial. In some cells, activity declined not only during each trial but throughout the entire experiment. Hundreds of neurons
worked together to record the order of the trials and the length of each one.
Howard saw that the different rates of decay in the neural activity looked like a Laplace transform of time. His model can explain
how we create and maintain a timeline of the past. That timeline could be of use not just to episodic memory in the hippocampus, but to working
memory in the prefrontal cortex and conditioning responses in the striatum.
Howard is working on extending the theory to other domains of cognition.
On February 13-14, 1945, the city of Dresden was incinerated by British and American bombers
"That was another hard
round of negotiations"
has an odd shape
The Paradise Papers
revealed tax avoidance
on a global scale
In 1945, B-29 "Enola Gay"
delivered an atom bomb
"I've been wondering what
the special place in hell
looks like for people who
promoted Brexit without
even a sketch of a plan how
to carry it out safely."
2019 February 13
Germany on Brexit
Helene von Bismarck
Angela Merkel remains chancellor, and her priorities for the Withdrawal Agreement are shared widely across the German political spectrum:
EU27 cohesion and single market integrity come first, the Anglo-German relationship second.
The EU is currently facing great challenges, such as EZ fragility, populism, and migration. Faced with a choice between
punishing the UK for Brexit or punishing the EU for it, the German government will not hesitate. British attempts to persuade the
German government to act as a broker for Britain within the EU27 are a waste of time.
2019 February 12
The European Union could go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Europe needs to recognize the magnitude of the threat. In the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019, the present party
system hampers those who want to preserve the founding values of the EU but helps those who want something radically different.
◼ Germany and the Right
The dominant CDU/CSU alliance in Germany has become unsustainable. The AfD entry into the Bavarian parliament broke the purpose of
the alliance. The current ruling coalition cannot be as robustly pro-European as it would be without the AfD threatening its right flank. The
good news is that the Greens are rising and the AfD seems to have reached a peak. But the CDU/CSU commitment to European values is ambivalent.
◼ UK and Brexit
The antiquated UK party structure prevents the popular will from finding proper expression. Both Labour and the Conservatives are
internally divided, but both parties seem determined to deliver Brexit. The public is becoming aware of the dire consequences of Brexit, which
could raise a groundswell of support for a referendum or for revocation of the Article 50 notification.
◼ Italy and Immigration
The EU made a fatal mistake in 2017 by strictly enforcing the Dublin Agreement, which unfairly burdens countries like Italy where
migrants first enter the EU. This drove Italy to the populists in 2018, leaving the pro-Europeans with no party to vote for. A similar reordering
of party systems is happening in France, Poland, Sweden, and probably elsewhere.
◼ Hungary and Nationalism
National parties at least have some roots in the past, but the trans-European alliances are entirely dictated by their party leaders.
The European People's Party (EPP) is almost entirely devoid of principles, as demonstrated by its willingness to permit the continued membership
of the Hungarian Fidesz party.
One can still make a case for preserving the EU in order radically to reinvent it. But the current EU leadership is reminiscent of
the politburo when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Mobilize the masses to defend EU founding values!
AR The founding values of the EU are still a high point in human moral achievement. The challenge is to re-engineer their
implementation to accommodate new technology (fake news in social media, high cost of medical advances, rise of global manufacturing chains, and
so on) by radically transforming the party landscape. As Soros says, the Greens offer a beacon of hope.
2019 February 11
The Brexit Effect
Brexit has visibly depressed UK economic data for the year 2018. Most economists agree that Brexit has cost Britain 2 ± 0.5% of GDP, and
higher inflation and lower growth since 2016 has reduced household incomes by 4.1%, an average of £1500 per household.
Brexit: High Noon?
Theresa May proposes to return to the Commons by 27 February. That vote may be Brexit high noon. A delay until 25 March is unthinkable.
No MP can take such a big decision so soon before D-Day.
Brexit: Extend Article 50
The British people does not have any real clarity about the future UK relationship with its closest neighbours. The political declaration was meant to set
out a framework for a future relationship and clarify the general direction on such issues as membership of the single market or a customs union.
What has happened in recent days has erased these basic navigation points. A lack of clarity about Brexit that was once seen as unfortunate
political necessity has been trumpeted as its chief political virtue. The Conservative party is united only around a set of ambiguous ideas that settle
What is being brushed over here is a fundamental choice about how the UK economy, society, and government will operate in years to come. It
is irresponsible for any government to contemplate embarking on such a perilous journey as Brexit without giving voters any idea of the destination.
A better understanding of future customs arrangements, trade policy, immigration, and rules for businesses is essential for jobs,
investment, and the work of government. Questions about all this are not details to be filled in at a later date. These are massively important
to all British citizens.
Leaving now, with so much unclear and uncertain, is a recipe for further division and dysfunction in politics. If government and
parliament cannot agree, they can hand the final decision back to the people in a new referendum. The UK must now seek an extension of the
Article 50 timetable.
Brexit: "Halt Ze German Advance"
English identity is in crisis. Germany has long since been the most prominent other. This has fueled the ongoing Brexit chaos and the deterioration
of political discourse in the UK.
Brexit supporters have framed Brexit as a means to return to a more triumphal era: the idea of Empire 2.0, a Spitfire aircraft
restored with government funds to fly around the world, a new Global Britain unshackled from Europe — all a retreat into fantasy.
Brexiteers are becoming increasingly shrill in their rhetoric, pushing the blame on to others. Germany is a frequent target, and now
someone is putting up "Halt Ze German Advance" anti-EU billboards.
From Theodora Dickinson's incorrectly quoted Thatcher reference to Germans and the Holocaust, to Conservative MP Mark Francois'
shameful words about "Teutonic arrogance" and "bullying" on live TV, to his fellow Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski's lying tweet about the
Marshall Plan, all these cases have two things in common: they ignore facts and abuse history.
With their cheap populist jingoism, these politicians and commentators are blowing up bridges built over decades. Underpinned
by an entirely misplaced sense of exceptionalism and entitlement, they reveal that Brexit has nothing positive to offer.
If the only way you can define yourself and your role in the world is by talking contemptuously about another country and its
people, abusing history, and distorting facts while expecting preferential treatment for yourself, well, to hell with you.
AR The last five words are my final flourish.
2019 February 10
Trump and Brexit
The Trump and Brexit projects have ended up remarkably similar. Both have broken down over the issue of a hard border with a neighbouring country.
Both are flirting with a trade war. Neither looks able to pass any more legislation.
Anglo-American populism is a unique mixture of wronged superpower vengeance plus buccaneering capitalism. Here is the Trump-Brexit
governing philosophy, as revealed in power:
▸ Destroying the status quo might be better than the status quo.
▸ ▸ ▸ [+16 further points of similarity]
▸ The revolution never compromises, not even with reality.
A Crazy Situation
Everyone is waiting for a miraculous solution. I have never seen such a crazy situation in all my life.
The prime minister is obsessed with keeping the Conservative party in one piece. The hardline Brexiteers have formed a party within
the party. I would love to see them leave the party, but Theresa May is trying to keep them on side.
The Brexit debate has crippled our political system and distorted the usual process of politics.
A Secret State
Brexit is a war the British have declared on themselves. The only major European country to escape both communism and fascism, or occupation by the
armies of Hitler or Stalin, has hard time taking the possibility of disaster seriously.
Britain has a hidden government, thinking the unthinkable in secret, to prevent voters realising the scale of the trouble they are
in. Civil servants are eager to be part of the great Brexit game.
But the collapsing UK political system can no more provide the civil service with a clear direction than it can say where it will
be this summer. This is not competent public administration.
Brexiteers' lack of concern for their fellow citizens borders on sociopathic. When Brexit fails, they will say it was betrayed
by the Whitehall establishment.
Mail on Sunday
The Danish island of Lindholm, home to a research station for animal diseases and a cemetery for infected carcasses, will become a fortress to dump
rejected and criminal refugees.
Denmark is bitterly divided over migration. Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warns that migrant ghettos could fuel gang
violence, and the Danish People's Party (DPP) calls for harsh policies to defend Danish values.
A €110 million plan to turn Lindholm into a holding pen for up to 125 unwanted arrivals, including convicted killers, will
leave the migrants free to leave the island on its two ferries, one called Virus, so long as they check in daily with police. Protesting
locals fear their peace will be ruined.
AR Brexit Britain is an island solution too.
2019 February 9
US Presidential Oversight
The New York Times
A president whose administration does not have the confidence of the people cannot govern effectively, or legitimately. Accountability is crucial
to that confidence.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "It's not investigation; it's oversight. It's our congressional responsibility, and if we didn't do it,
we would be delinquent in our duties."
The president should focus on the big picture. The public will feel much more confident in his leadership once some of the more
disturbing questions have been answered.
Brexit Backstop Plan
We have a disaster waiting to happen on 29 March.
The UK, Northern Ireland (NI), the Republic of Ireland (RI), and the EU all want to preserve peace in NI based on the Good Friday
agreement. I propose a plan that tries to take the interests of four parties into account:
▸ The UK says the backstop has to go. It undermines UK sovereignty, which has priority over peace
in NI. The UK wants freedom to negotiate FTAs, which is not possible under a customs union.
▸ NI wants to avoid a negative economic impact.
▸ The RI wants to preserve peace in NI.
▸ The EU will stay loyal to the RI and protect the integrity of the single market.
My proposal drops the current backstop clause and gives NI citizens the right to vote to join the RI. By 2020, the UK and EU will
have reached an agreement that either does or does not require a hard border. If it does, an NI referendum is held.
The vote takes the backstop decision away from the EU and gives it to NI citizens, thus respecting UK sovereignty. NI citizens could
vote for Irish unity, but that genie is already out of the bottle. If they vote for a hard border, the problem arises first at the end of 2020.
This proposal could avoid disaster.
AR I dislike the idea that NI citizens get a benefit I don't, namely to vote again on whether they want to rejoin/stay
in the EU. I want that too.
2019 February 8
No press conference for Theresa May in Brussels. All we got were some short strangulated barks of nothing, lasting about a minute, delivered into
a microphone held by Laura Kuenssberg, to make clear, as only she can, that nothing has changed.
"I'm, erm, clear that I'm going to deliver Brexit. I'm going to deliver it on time. That's what I'm going to do for the British
Half the country doesn't want it delivered on time. They don't want it delivered at all. At some point, it's possible she'll work
out she should never have pretended to be Winston Churchill, charged with some sacred mission to deliver Britain to its promised land. The
promised land will be terrible. She knows it, but she can't extend her emotional range to acknowledge it.
2019 February 7
The State of the UK
Just 50 days from now, the UK might be under martial law, experiencing shortages of foods and essential drugs, with a sharp economic downturn, and
national security and public services drastically compromised.
Young people are deeply concerned about a no-deal Brexit. All of the Brexit options will be a disaster for the UK. None of them make
a success of Brexit.
Theresa May, your deal is not the only one available to the UK. Accept the ambitions of the Tusk package. Leverage the fact the UK
is an integral part of the EU.
Push for reforms on issues such as sovereignty, immigration, and economic governance. Accept publicly that to allow a no-deal
departure from the EU by default would be the ultimate dereliction of duty and an unforgivable betrayal of future generations.
No viable alternative so far offers anything as advantageous as the deal the UK has right now with the EU. Restart the Tusk
2019 February 6
The State of the Union
The New York Times
President Trump showed up with a standard list of broad policy aims. He brought up abortion and Syria and a "tremendous onslaught" of migrants
on the southern border.
The spectacle evinced the true state of the union — fractured, fractious, painfully dysfunctional — as the president
called for an end to "ridiculous partisan investigations": "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.
It just doesn't work that way!"
Trump assailed Democratic leaders and repeatedly threatened to declare a national emergency if lawmakers didn't provide billions
for his border wall.
AR Trump said he will meet Kim Jong Un again in Vietnam.
Jewish Review of Books
Avraham Sutzkever was born in Lithuania in 1913. He and his wife and son were in Vilna in 1941 when the Nazis conquered the city and murdered the
baby boy. With horror compounding horror, Sutzkever obsessively wrote poems. From one:
The warm breath of a pile of dung
May become a poem, a thing of beauty
(translated by Benjamin Harshav)
Massimo Pigliucci aims to bring Stoicism to modern life. He says we can develop a moral character and attain peace of mind by taking charge of our
desires, by acting virtuously in the world, and by responding calmly to events we can't control.
Stoics said virtue is all we need. A virtuous person is happy under all circumstances. Everything that happens is part of a providential
order, designed by a divine mind, and virtue consists in living in agreement with that order.
Einstein's God will no doubt appeal more to us than the divine mind. But Einstein's God doesn't care about anyone or anything. For us,
improving our circumstances is better than searching for philosophical consolation.
AR Improving them — but how?
What Is Life?
Life seems to fly in the face of the second law of thermodynamics. Erwin Schrödinger addressed this question.
Optimized information processing is key to the survival of living things. The genetic code is inscribed in DNA as sequences of the
chemical bases A, C, G, and T. The information constructed from this alphabet is mathematically encrypted. To be expressed in an organism, it must
be decoded and translated into the amino acid alphabet used to form proteins.
Living things have elaborate networks of information flow within and between cells. Gene networks control basic housekeeping functions
and such processes as the development of an embryo. Neural networks provide higher-level management. Living organisms use these informational
pathways for regulation and control.
Life = matter + information. The hard question is how chemicals can self-organize into complex systems that store information and process
it using a mathematical code. We may need a new law or organizing principle that couples information to matter and links biology to physics.
Living cells are replete with nanomachines running the business of life. There are molecular motors and rotors and ratchets, honed by
evolution to operate at close to perfect thermodynamic efficiency, playing the margins of the second law to gain a vital advantage.
Our brains contain voltage-gated ion channels that use information about incoming electrical pulses to open and close molecular shutters
in the surfaces of axons, and so let signals flow through the neural circuitry. Working together, these channels give rise to cascades of signalling
and information processing, as in computers.
Perhaps the transition from non-living to living is marked by a transformation in the organization of information. Treating information
as a physical quantity with its own dynamics enables us to formulate laws of life. The whole of life is greater than the sum of its parts.
In quantum mechanics, a system such as an atom evolves according to the Schrödinger equation until a measurement collapses the
wave function. This measurement cannot be defined locally but depends on the overall context.
Quantum biology may take us further.
Ministry of Defence 2019
The Royal Air Force is retiring its Tornado strike aircraft after 40 years of front-line service. Image: RAF Tornado GR4
Poole Bay in winter
2019 Chinese New Year
I Become a Rotarian
Rotary Club of Poole
I was inducted today as a member in the Rotary Club of Poole. My introductory biography:
Andy Ross is a native European, born in Luton in 1949 and raised in Poole. He went to Poole Grammar School, where he won an award to read Physics at
Exeter College in the University of Oxford. He graduated in PPE in 1972 and went on to earn three more degrees, one from the LSE and two more from
Oxford in mathematical logic and scientific philosophy.
In 1977, he joined the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall as an administration trainee, only to find one year there was enough. After a
year teaching English in Japan and a few years teaching maths and physics in London, he moved to Germany in 1987.
From 1987 to 1998, Andy worked as a physics and computer science editor at the academic publisher Springer in Heidelberg. Then from
1999 to 2009, he worked as a developer in the global software company SAP, where he contributed to courses at SAP University and wrote a book on
a major new database development.
Also in 2009, Andy published his contributions to the emerging science of consciousness, where new ideas in artificial intelligence
seem to promise a new age of machines with minds, on which he had spoken at international conferences in Europe and America over ten years.
Then aged 60, he retired from SAP and wrote and self-published several more philosophical books.
In 2013, Andy returned from Germany to Poole and in 2014 joined the Conservatives, where he worked as a parliamentary assistant to
the Poole MP, Sir Robert Syms. He also helped the current Poole Council to get elected in 2015 and has supported them ever since.
His Poole work continues with a new scheme to assist in the training and employment of talented young local people.
Brexit and Ireland
Brexit is at odds with the 1998 Good Friday agreement which sought to erase hard border between the north and south of Ireland. Theresa May's
problem is that she has committed the UK to leaving the EU while respecting the peace deal.
London and Dublin have committed not to reintroduce border checkpoints. May's withdrawal agreement enshrines this in law as an
insurance policy: If the UK left the EU without securing a deal, a backstop arrangement would allow for frictionless trade.
Fanatical Brexiteers were not bothered about the peace process. They saw in the insurance policy a devious mechanism to force
Britain to march in lockstep with EU regulations. To reverse her government's historic Commons defeat, May agreed to replace the backstop.
In Belfast on Tuesday, the prime minister seemed to favour a revised backstop. MPs considering alternative arrangements were meeting
in London as she spoke. All agree that the backstop must be a temporary measure, but no one wants to say so in law.
Northern Ireland voted to remain. Unionism risks defeating itself if it becomes too closely identified with Brexit. Fragmentation
is by no means inevitable, but without a sense of common purpose and community it becomes possible.
Brexiteers Say No
EU top civil servant Martin Selmayr spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee last night and offered Britain a legal guarantee
that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop. But the Brexiteer MPs immediately rebuffed his offer.
Britons "never, never, never shall be slaves," as Rule Britannia triumphantly puts it. The underside of nostalgia for an imperial past is a horror
of finding the tables turned. For extreme Brexiteers, leaving the EU takes on the character of a victorious army coming home with its spoils.
Though imperial decline looms large in the imagination of Brexit, "the war" is crucial in structuring English feeling about the EU. The
equation of a European superstate with a project of German domination is part of the map of English conservatism. To such people, the EU is just a
stealthy way for the Germans to complete Hitler's unfinished business.
The English cult of heroic failure, exemplified by the charge of the Light Brigade and the evacuation from Dunkirk, suggests that the
secret libidinal need of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, and their colleagues is actually for their noble project to fail in the most
painful way possible, as an immolation on the altar of past glories.
The English seem unable to conceive of a relationship with Europe other than subjection or domination. They will try to regain the
whip hand even if they have to immiserate the country to do it. For them, the principle of equal partnership on which the EU is predicated is
not an option.
A Brutal End To Cool Britannia
Brexit is a retreat. It has profound strategic consequences for the UK and threatens to make it culturally more exclusionary.
British artists who wrote the soundtrack for European popular culture emerged when Britain was opening up to the world after its
enforced postwar austerity and unleashing boundless creativity.
Brexiteers say Britain is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. In 2019, Europe is the EU. The UK political establishment has
failed to accommodate itself to that fact.
Brexit will unleash demons. It will wound not only Britain but also Europe.
AR Brexit is foolish and uncool — obviously.
2019 February 4
End The War In Afghanistan
The New York Times
In September 2001, President George W. Bush went to war in Afghanistan: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It
will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
More than 17 years later, the US military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations. The price tag will reach about
$6 trillion by the end of FY 2019. The war on terror has claimed an estimated half a million lives around the globe.
When Donald Trump ran for the White House, he promised to rein in overseas military adventurism and focus US resources on core
strategic priorities. That retrenchment can start with Afghanistan: Withdraw NATO forces by the end of 2019.
Conservatives Will Not Be Forgiven
Former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin will support whatever Brexit deal Theresa May comes up with next, because if the UK crashes out of the
EU without a deal and things turn bad, "my party will not be forgiven for many years".
Ministers, civil servants, and heads of government agencies who have responsibility for essential services and commerce are
sweating fear. The people who would have to handle the consequences of Britain crashing out of the EU are very scared indeed.
Conservative prime ministers called the 2016 referendum and presided over the combination of tragedy and farce that has unfolded
since. If Brexit goes horribly wrong, voters are going to blame the Conservatives.
Albion Through The Looking Glass
UK politics has taken a running jump down the rabbit hole.
Having repeatedly insisted that her deal was the only one available, Theresa May caved to Brexiteers. The Brady amendment requires
her to find "alternative arrangements" to replace the backstop.
May's deal would be worse for the UK than remaining in the EU. Ministers attempt to defend her deal as respecting "the will of the
people" whereas holding another vote would be "undemocratic" and drive up support for the far right.
ERG Brexiteers seem to believe that, following a brief period of discomfort, No Deal would carry the UK to the sunlit uplands as a
free sovereign state, with the pain dumped on EU27 shoulders. So Brexiteers run down the clock.
Diehard Remainers believe that May understands the chaos that would result from a disorderly exit and that MPs will agree on a new
poll or a revocation of Article 50. So Remainers run down the clock.
May's strategy has been to scare people into backing her deal. And while the Brady amendment weakens perceptions of her as a
credible negotiating partner, it kicks the can further down the road. So May runs down the clock.
A narrative is growing among Brexiteers that the EU is being unreasonable. Continental partners are sounding ever more impatient.
Anger on both sides of the Channel is hindering agreement.
The UK political system is suffering a dissociative fugue.
AR The last two words are my diagnosis of what Matt called a nervous breakdown.
2019 February 3
Brexit: Queen Has Evacuation Plan
The Sunday Times
The Queen and other senior royals will be evacuated from London in the event of riots triggered by a no-deal Brexit, under secret emergency plan to
rescue the royal family first drafted during the cold war, as the risk rises that things might turn ugly if the UK crashes out of the EU without
AR As numerous rich people emigrate, big overseas investors pull out, and the Queen plans to flee from London, Brexit
Britain will become a prison or quarantine state. Millions of citizens will feel the pain if basics like food and medicines run out, and their
agonies will lead to massive disruption.
Brexit Britain will become ripe for a radical socialist revolution or outlaw declarations of shariah neighbourhoods. The army is
not big enough to maintain law and order in such such circumstances, opening up a serious risk of a meltdown of civil society, anarchy, and a
descent into savagery.
2019 February 2
Russia Suspends INF Treaty
Following the US suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia has announced it is suspending it too.
Russian president Vladimir Putin: "The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend
it as well .. We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue,
notably, on all the aspects. We see, that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives."
AR Putin's dog in the White House has been seduced by Pentagon hawks into making a move that plays into the hands of
Kremlin hawks who want to threaten Europe. NATO must work harder.
The Rise and Fall of British Politics
A hundred years ago, Max Weber gave a lecture on the profession and vocation of politics. He admired the British system and the way its politicians
and officials managed prosperity and stability in a working democracy. Britain was known as the cradle of democracy and decency.
Britain has now gone from being the most stable country in Europe to one of the least, from a country governed by a broad
consensus to a society divided into two camps, and from a government that managed crises well to leaders who cannot even
control their own parties.
The government's botched handling of Brexit was both a failure of political leadership and a failure of planning. Theresa May set
red lines without real thought as to what might be achievable and walked into a deal where she sacrificed too much and failed to think through
the consequences. She tried to play hardball.
The obsession with Brexit has prevented the government from addressing the deep problems that confront the UK. It has no time or
energy to develop serious policies on how new technology impacts traditional jobs, or on the housing crisis for young people or the social
care crisis for older people. For everything but Brexit, the country is on autopilot.
The concept of facts has disappeared. Not only the politicians but also the civil servants have failed. The result is a collapse
of public confidence in the political system.
Max Weber warned about the dangers of professionalizing politics. In Britain that professionalization has reached a new level in
this century. As a result, people now think they are governed by an elite that serves its own interests.
The tragedy of Brexit shows the need for a new kind of politics in Britain.
The Future of the Mind
I think about the fundamental nature of the mind and the nature of the self. If we have artificial general intelligence, I want to know whether it
would be conscious or just computing in the dark.
We need to keep an open mind. If machines turn out to be conscious, we will be learning not just about machine minds but about our
own minds. That could be a humbling experience for humans.
In a relatively short amount of time, we have managed to create interesting and sophisticated artificial intelligences. We already
see tech gurus like Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk talking about enhancing human intelligence with brain chips.
I see many misunderstandings in current discussions about the nature of the mind, such as the assumption that if we create
sophisticated AI, it will inevitably be conscious. Many of the issues at stake here involve classic philosophical problems that have no easy
solutions. Now that we have an opportunity to possibly sculpt our own minds, I believe that we need to dialogue with these classic philosophical
positions about the nature of the self.
As we use neuroprosthetics or brain chips in parts of the brain that underlie conscious experience in humans, if those chips succeed
and if we don't notice deficits of consciousness, then we have reason to believe that the microchips could underwrite consciousness. In principle,
we could develop a synthetic consciousness.
I like living in that space of humility where we hit an epistemological wall.
AR David Chalmers speculated on replacing brain parts step by step with chips and exploring whether consciousness
faded as a result.
2019 February 1
US Suspends INF Treaty
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo says the United States is suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This pact with Russia has been a
centerpiece of European security since the Cold War.
AR I vividly recall the nightmare of "theater" nuclear weapons in Europe that was ended by the INF treaty. The month the
treaty came into force I moved to Germany to live and work there.
Neural Network Theory
Neural networks implement our most advanced artificial intelligence systems. Yet we have no general theory of how they work.
A neural network is made of neurons connected in various ways. We set its depth by deciding how many layers of neurons it should have.
We set the width of each layer to reflect the number of different features it considers at each level of abstraction.
We also decide how to connect neurons within layers and between layers, and how much weight to give each connection. For image processing,
convolutional neural networks have the same pattern of connections between layers repeated over and over. For natural language processing, recurrent
neural networks connect neurons in non-adjacent layers.
A neural network with only one computational layer, but an unlimited number of neurons with unlimited connections between them, can
perform any task, but is hard to train and computationally intensive. By increasing depth and decreasing width, you can perform the same functions
with exponentially fewer neurons, but the functions set a minimum width for the layers.
For example, imagine a neural network tasked to draw a border around dots of the same color in an array of colored dots. It will fail if
the width of the layers is less than or equal to the number of inputs. Each dot has two coordinates for its position. The neural network then labels
each dot with a color and draws a border around dots of the same color. In this case, you need three or more neurons per layer to perform the task.
All this is not yet a general theory of neural networks.
Wintry outlook: Poole Harbour, January 31
"The EU including Ireland stands
by the withdrawal agreement,
including the protocol and
backstop relating to Ireland."
"The backstop is part of the
withdrawal agreement, and
the withdrawal agreement is
not open for renegotiation."
Sterling falls as Cooper
2019 January 31
Trump Targets US Intelligence
President Donald Trump's assaults on US spy chiefs are shocking coming from a commander in chief.
The president's Twitter barrage over a global threat matrix produced by US intelligence agencies that contradicts his idiosyncratic
worldview is no surprise. His habit of fashioning a truth that fits his personal prejudices and goals over an objective version of reality is
well known. But consider:
★ His rejection of US intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the 2016 election
★ His one-man flattery offensive toward Russian president Vladimir Putin
★ His claim to have ended the North Korean nuclear threat
★ His assertion that ISIS is "badly" beaten
★ His withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran
★ His plans to withdraw troops from Syria and cut the US garrison in Afghanistan
★ His constant undermining of NATO
In the realm of national security, Trump's approach can be deeply destructive.
May Must Be Stopped
Theresa May's mandate to rewrite the Irish backstop is worthless. The hardliners do not want an agreement. They want to run down the clock to a
May faced a choice on Brexit. She could prioritise party unity by bowing to nationalists or she could try to build a wider coalition.
Her red lines set her course.
The latest Faustian pact was a logical destination. EU leaders know a slender majority of 16 is not a sustainable negotiating mandate.
They will not abandon the Irish government.
The British government can longer be trusted as a partner. There is nothing its EU partners can do to save the UK from its crash-out
course. May must be stopped.
The Price Of Party Unity
Theresa May won a slim majority for revising her Brexit deal. Her trump was party unity. The EU has no appetite to change the backstop,
but May set this aside.
The 27 EU member states whose interests are stitched into the withdrawal agreement will find her change of mind obnoxious. Governments
around the world see an unreliable Britain.
The prime minister has appeased her party fanatics. The rightwing fringe of her party is hostile to the EU. Some Tory MPs welcome a
disorderly Brexit as prelude to a blame game.
May has lost credibility and goodwill with EU27 partners. They know any concessions would simply provoke more demands. Appeasing
the hardliners is worse than weakness.
2019 January 30
The EU sees an extension to the Article 50 exit process as certain but will set conditions on any extension. These must be agreed unanimously
by all 27 European leaders.
One option is to offer the UK a 3-month extension to continue negotiations with the option of further such extensions until
the end of the year. The next summit of European leaders that could agree an extension is on March 21, D-Day minus 8.
History will damn the architects of Brexit. Imagine the day, years from now, when an inquiry probes the epic policy disaster that was Brexit and
delivers its damning final report, concluding that this was a failure of the entire British political class.
Theresa May had repeated endlessly that her deal was the only deal on offer. Yet last night she urged MPs to vote for an amendment
that trashes that deal. The Brady amendment demands replacement of the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements.
Cheering her on was a Conservative party declaring that they like the good bits of the deal but not the bad bits. This was the same
logic the Brexiteers used for the referendum: Do you want to stay in the EU, with all its flaws, or would you like alternative arrangements?
MPs had the chance to prevent the national cataclysm of a no-deal crash-out last night and they refused to take it. They voted for
a toothless amendment that does nothing to prevent it.
A handful of MPs are using every parliamentary wile they can to stop the country from slamming into the iceberg. But almost everyone
else will be damned for their role in a saga that disgraces this country and its supposed leaders.
Closer To No Deal Than Ever
What a pantomime! The prime minister joined her party in demanding changes to her deal. She backed an amendment instructing her to go back to Brussels
and try harder.
Parliament proudly displayed its inability to decide. They don't want no deal but they do want changes to the Ireland backstop.
Tory tribalism is a consensus built on alternative arrangements to replace the backstop. The assumption is that the EU will cave in.
So far there is little reason to believe the member states will do so.
The natural party of government votes for unicorns. The party in opposition is not quite sure what it wants. Hardcore Brexiteers pushed
a narrative of EU intransigence.
Now we wait for May to go back to Brussels and seek to achieve in under a fortnight what she failed to achieve in a year
A major country stands on the brink of potential meltdown. If the UK does not find a way to support a deal either to exit the EU or to negotiate an
extension on the Article 50 process, it is set to crash out of the EU on March 29.
Most coverage has focused on the initial chaos. A country that relies heavily on cross-channel shipping for food, medicines,
manufacturing supplies, and more could see crossing fall by 75%−87% for six months, with almost no viable alternative routes to match
anything like the lost capacity.
But the longer-term economic harm would be devastating. The midpoint estimates of such a crisis suggest a drop of close to 9% in GDP
— a far, far deeper recession than the financial crisis of 2009 — and huge increases in unemployment, the cost of borrowing, plummeting
value of the pound, and more. This damage could easily take a decade or more to repair.
The UK is perhaps the largest financial center in the world. More than a third of global foreign exchange trading operates out of London,
as does a similar proportion of derivatives trading. Its banking sector is sized at more than €10 trillion, and it manages more than a third of
European financial assets.
Britain is on the brink of economic crisis. Be very afraid. A no-deal exit could launch a global economic crisis.
2019 January 29
Brexit: Parliamentary Amendments
✗ Amendment A (Labour frontbench amendment, which rejects the idea of a no-deal Brexit and calls for a permanent
customs union with the EU)
296 Ayes, 327 Noes
✗ Amendment O (SNP/Plaid Cymru, notes that Scotland and Wales voted against Brexit and calls on
government to extend Article 50 and reject no-deal Brexit)
39 Ayes, 327 Noes
✗ Amendment G (Dominic Grieve, call for six extra sitting days to debate other business, such as
another referendum or rejections of a no-deal Brexit)
301 Ayes, 321 Noes
✗ Amendment B (Yvette Cooper, seeks binding legislation for an extension of Article 50 if withdrawal
agreement not approved by 26 February)
298 Ayes, 321 Noes
✗ Amendment J (Rachel Reeves, call to seek two-year extension to Article 50 process if no agreement
between UK and EU approved by 26 February)
290 Ayes, 322 Noes
✓ Amendment I (Dame Caroline Spelman, stating that the UK will not leave the EU without a deal —
but only advisory, with no legislative force)
318 Ayes, 310 Noes
✓ Amendment N (Sir Graham Brady, calling for the backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements
to avoid a hard border)
317 Ayes, 301 Noes
AR A victory for party tribalism over basic common sense.
Brexit: Malthouse Compromise
The Conservatives' new "Malthouse compromise" stands no chance of being acceptable to the EU.
There seem to be three fundamentals to the plan: the extension of the implementation period to 2021, technological solutions to ensure
no border infrastructure requirements on the island of Ireland, and an interim free trade agreement to be tabled immediately.
Technological solutions for the Irish border have been endlessly debated, but there is no border in the world outside of the EU where
there are no physical checks. Only where both countries are in a customs union and have more or less the same product regulations backed by a common
court have checks been eliminated.
The backstop is a firm red line for the commission. The EU does not trust the UK not to backslide from a vaguer commitment.
An interim free trade agreement would not help avoid border checks. The chances of the EU accepting one are close to zero.
2019 January 28
Trump Horror Movie
President Trump cannot be helped. The presidency is not an entry-level job. There is just too much at stake.
The longer we have a pretend CEO who is recklessly running this country, the worse it's going to be for our economy and for our security.
This is really dangerous. It's like a bad horror movie: Instead of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street, we've got Donald Trump and the
Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The government shutdown is one of the worst cases of incompetent management I have ever seen.
Take No-Deal Brexit Off Table
Westminster has the opportunity this week to end the damaging prospect of a no-deal Brexit. MPs will vote on Tuesday on a range of amendments to UK
prime minister Theresa May's Brexit proposals. They must act now to avoid calamity.
The chief executive of Airbus was right to brand the negotiations a disgrace. Several other manufacturers caution that no deal would
threaten jobs and investment. This is not Project Fear but an acknowledgment of reality.
The only way to gain the support of Brexiteers for May's deal is to rethink the Irish border backstop. But there is no sign that Brussels
is willing to do so. Extending Article 50 is the only reasonable course of action.
The priority must be to avoid the risk of chaos. Parliament remains sovereign in the UK. MPs should use that sovereignty to act in the
The Conservative Party Is Becoming Repellent
As a believer in fiscal discipline, strong defence, robust anti-terrorism measures, the Atlantic alliance, and the social liberalism of those who live
in the here and now, I ought to be at ease with modern Conservatism. And I really am not.
The attack on "Teutonic arrogance" by Mark Francois MP is the tip of a nativist iceberg. Brexit has summoned the very worst demons that
lurk in the Conservative psyche, liberating Tories to bellow nonsense about WW2. It has fatally compounded the party's demented fixation with
immigration and distracted it from the true challenges of the 21st century.
In a crisis of this nature, the proper role of Conservatives should be to cut through the infantile rhetoric and show true statesmanship.
Instead, we see a party cravenly fetishising the 2016 referendum as if no further expression of popular opinion on Brexit were possible, behaving as
if the only thing that matters is to get out of the EU by 29 March.
Where are the Tories prepared to risk their careers and to say that the instruction given by the electorate in 2016 cannot be delivered
in a way that does not do terrible harm to those same voters and their children?
DeepMind AI Beats Humans at StarCraft II
StarCraft II is sometimes called the Grand Challenge for artificial intelligence. Now DeepMind AI has defeated two top-ranked professional players at it,
both by 5-0.
In StarCraft II, players control armies across a terrain. They build infrastructure, juggling short-term gain with long-term benefits,
when they can't always see the full map.
DeepMind created five versions of their AI, called AlphaStar, and trained them on recordings of human games. The versions then played
against each other in a league. AlphaStar played on a single GPU, but it was trained on 16 tensor processing units hosted in the Google cloud.
AlphaStar skills apply in other areas. StarCraft is like running a company or a logistic operation. It involves planning R&D and
getting goods to the right place at the right time.
AR Memo to SAP: Try it.
"Why should we care about
what's going on over there?
The answer is that what
is going on 'over there'
affects us. If Africa loses,
Europe can't win."
"Those who've lived under
dictatorships say, 'please don't
give me a ministry of trust'.
But is it acceptable that
Mark Zuckerberg is the
minister of trust?"
Marietje Schaake MEP
2019 Holocaust Memorial Day
A Quiet Life
The European project knows no higher ideal than calm good living. The EU and most of its states were born or reborn from the rubble of war and the
traumas of totalitarianism. The opposite of horror and cataclysm is the quiet life.
This European dream is glimpsed not in luxurious ceremonies in Paris, Brussels, or Berlin but in well heated social housing blocks in
Utrecht or Vienna, in comfortable houses with gardens on the outskirts of Barcelona or Prague, in safe streets and decent hospitals. The EU mission
is to protect this comfortable European garden from outside threats.
The EU obsession with the quiet life also explains its weaknesses. It concentrates too little on global security or competitors outside
its borders. It prioritizes averting losses above grasping opportunities. It generally values dull uniformity above dazzling difference.
Its Brexit talks with Britain illustrate these traits. Shortly after the referendum, EU leaders agreed that the risk of a fragmenting
EU was the greatest danger to European life. Brexit will succeed insofar as it serves the pursuit and preservation of the comfortable European
2019 January 26
The Danger Posed by China
An unprecedented danger is threatening the survival of open societies. The danger is from the instruments of control that machine learning and
artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.
In China, a centralized database to create a social credit system will evaluate people with algorithms that determine whether they
pose a threat to the one-party state. The social credit system will treat people according to the interests of the state. The instruments of
control developed by artificial intelligence give an inherent advantage to authoritarian regimes over open societies.
In an open society, the rule of law prevails as opposed to rule by a single individual, and the role of the state is to protect
human rights and individual freedom. By contrast, authoritarian regimes use whatever instruments of control they possess to maintain themselves
in power at the expense of those whom they exploit and suppress.
China has a Confucian tradition, according to which advisors of the emperor are expected to speak out when they strongly disagree
with one of his actions or decrees, even that may result in exile or execution. The committed defenders of open society in China have mostly
been replaced by younger people who depend on Xi Jinping for promotion. But a new political elite has emerged that is willing to uphold the
Xi presents China as a role model for other countries to emulate. His Belt and Road Initiative is designed to promote the interests
of China, not the interests of the recipient countries. An effective American policy toward China must include a US response to the Belt and
China wants to dictate rules and procedures that govern the digital economy by dominating the developing world with its new
platforms and technologies. The combination of repressive regimes with IT monopolies endows those regimes with an advantage over open societies.
The instruments of control pose a mortal threat to open societies.
China is wealthy, strong, and technologically advanced. Xi Jinping is the most dangerous opponent of open societies. We must pin our
hopes on the Chinese people.
AR As a student Soros was influenced by Karl Popper, as I was, but his conception of open societies needs radical
China shows the need for a new view to accommodate the priorities of development and the opportunities of new technology. Machine
learning and so on force all of us to reconsider how human rights and the constraints of our planetary ecosystem can be reconciled. The Western
liberal model of the state is verging on obsolescence.
As I see it, China offers a more positive model of how to proceed than Soros seems to think.
2019 January 25
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention.
These major threats — nuclear weapons and climate change — were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of
information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization
in extraordinary danger.
Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future. But threats must be acknowledged before
they can be effectively confronted.
Speech to the Sandringham Women's Institute
Queen Elizabeth II
"The continued emphasis on patience, friendship, a strong community focus, and considering the needs of others are as important today as they were
when the group was founded all those years ago .. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes,
like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view, coming together to seek out the common ground, and never losing sight
of the bigger picture."
AR Cited in the UK as front-page and TV news for its presumed relevance to Brexit. Who can doubt that the UK is in thrall
to a quasi-religious cult of royalty?
2019 January 24
Brexit: No No Deal
UK prime minister Theresa May faces intense pressure to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: "Not leaving would be seen as a betrayal of the referendum decision, but equally leaving without a deal
would undermine our prosperity and would equally represent a betrayal of the promises that were made."
Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd: "There is no doubt that No Deal would be bad for prosperity and bad for our security."
Business minister Richard Harrington: "I'm very happy if the prime minister decides I'm not the right person to do the business and
Airbus CEO Tom Enders: "Please don't listen to the Brexiteers' madness, which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will
not move and we will always be here. They are wrong."
Siemens UK CEO Jürgen Maier: "The thing all of us won't be able to manage is a no-deal .. the writing is on the wall on what
will happen to those factories in a decade."
Second Vote Now
Brexit is a disastrous course. The golden future awaiting "global Britain" is fantasy.
The UK faces a significant probability of crashing out in a disorderly exit, which would be hugely disruptive in the short run and
costly in the long run. It would damage relations with the EU forever.
A slight victory in the referendum gives Brexiteers no right to drive the country over a cliff. Remainers have the right to ask
parliament to consult the people again. Fanatics cannot dictate what Leave means.
Let us have a second vote.
Theresa May Will Accept Delaying Brexit
Theresa May is privately resigned to having to delay Brexit if MPs vote for it next week, say allies. In public, she hit out at MPs seeking to
extend article 50, saying this does not solve the issue.
Downing Street will not say whether the government will accept a bid to delay Brexit for up to nine months. The proposal would allow
MPs to table legislation on February 5 to extend article 50. If it passed, May would have three weeks to win a vote on her Brexit deal in
parliament before being required to seek an extension of article 50.
Labour and a number of Tories hint they will back the bid, which will be debated and voted on next Tuesday. Extending article 50
would require unanimous consent from the EU27.
Germans Owe Britain
Alexander von Schönburg
German politicians and pundits are urging chancellor Angela Merkel to harden her line toward the UK and not throw Theresa May a lifeline. French
president Emmanuel Macron said Brexit was a British problem it would have to solve on its own.
Such blinkered and sour responses ignore the great debt that Germany and Europe owe the UK. It was Great Britain that first stood up
to Hitler in 1939. Britain opened its doors to the thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
There would be no free Europe without Britain and its bloody sacrifice. But thanks to opposition by French president Charles De Gaulle,
it took more than a decade for the UK to be accepted into the forerunner of the EU.
The driving force for welcoming UK membership was German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In 1965, Queen Elizabeth II toured Germany.
Adenauer quickly saw that Europe needed Britain precisely because Europe is a patchwork made up of vibrantly different nations.
We needed Britain 80 years ago and we need Britain now. For Europe, Britain is the real backstop. Without the UK, power in Europe
will tend to gravitate ever more to the center.
We need to let the UK leave without punishing it. German statesman Otto von Bismarck said one should always win but never humiliate
one's opponents. The best victory is the magnanimous one.
AR Victory. Brexit certainly feels like the bum's rush.
2019 January 23
The plutocrats are terrified. The Davos organisers ask: "Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis?"
The last three decades have seen the political and economic elites hack away at our social scaffolding. It proved profitable, for a while,
but now it threatens their own world. And still they block more taxes on wealth, more power for workers, companies not run solely to enrich their owners.
The solutions to this crisis will not be handed down from a mountain top.
Three decades after Ronald Reagan, we laugh at: "I'm from the elite and I'm here to help."
Let The People Vote
The UK ship of state is steaming toward the iceberg of a no-deal Brexit. A catastrophe looms.
Parliament should legislate against a no-deal outcome and seek to extend the Article 50 process. MPs should
then hold indicative votes to test support for other exit options.
The withdrawal process has been taken hostage by ideological extremists determined to reject the sole sensible version of an EU exit that
is on the table. If parliament remains unable to back a new deal, a general election changes nothing.
Ask the public whether they still want Brexit. They deserve a chance to weigh the realities of departing against remaining in the EU
under the existing terms: outside the EZ and Schengen zone and inside the single market.
A second plebiscite might deliver no clear outcome and might repeat the previous result. It would also be divisive. But leaving the EU
will be divisive in any case.
Parliamentary gridlock is worse than a new plebiscite. The people must have their say.
A sense of hysteria is spreading around Whitehall. Five government ministers:
M1 If the government doesn't agree to a second referendum I'll lose my seat.
M2 If a people's vote goes ahead we'll be thrown out by the voters.
M3 The only way out might be a general election.
M4 If we do that I'll definitely lose my seat.
M5 We're so fucked.
Battle for Britain
Theresa May made a fundamental error. Britain is bitterly split down the middle between Brexiteers and Remainers. May wanted to deliver a Brexit deal
that would bring both sides together.
On the issue of sovereign British independence, there can be no compromise. The UK is either out of the EU or it is in. May's deal is
Brexit in name only and leads to surrender.
Westminster is currently heaving with plots. But there's no deadlock. The legally binding default position is that if no deal with the
EU is struck, Britain will leave on March 29 without a deal.
Britain is a very special country. The countries of mainland Europe have a shallow understanding of national identity. Britain is an
island nation with a distinct and separate identity.
Three nations see themselves as uniquely blessed: Britain, America, and Israel. All played a big role in bringing civilization
to the world. But all three are beset from within by a subversive intelligentsia.
The idea of the modern nation state grew out of the Enlightenment. Britain was first into the Enlightenment and is first out. Brexit
offers Britain its last chance to become itself again.
AR If this is not self-serving tosh I don't know what is. Britain is a cake baked with European ingredients, from its
Celtic roots to its Viking and Norman conquerors, from its European monarchy to its Franco-Germanic language. Its separate identity is no more
real than that of Germany or France, which have now seen the light and agreed to cooperate.
Coastal borders do not a nation make, not in a world of transcendent religion and universal science, and especially not in a
world of air travel and nuclear missiles. A sovereign nation needs a rich culture, a strong heritage, and native genius. Europe was the cradle
for the nation state and is well stocked with them.
America is a special case because it blends the cultures of Europe and other lands to form a uniquely powerful state. Israel is a
special case because Jews have nursed a uniquely deep heritage over millennia. Britain is unique mainly because its maritime empire was the first
whose outer perimeter shrank to an antipodal point on a finite planet.
Trump America is floundering as it confronts the global limits of its power in a world hosting rising competitors. The Israel of the
Zionists is endangered because its history looks ever less special as our planetary civilization emerges. And Brexit Britain is doomed to suffer
its proud sovereignty as an albatross in an emerging global self that rewards harmony between its national parts.
Melanie Phillips betrays her case by bewailing the intelligentsia. This outs her as a romantic populist. Britain, America, and
Israel are transient forms in the fluid swarming of people in big history.
2019 January 22
Frankreichs Präsident Emmanuel Macron und Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel unterzeichnen einen neuen Freundschaftsvertrag zwischen
Frankreich und Deutschland.
Sowohl Merkel als auch Macron agieren aus einer Position der Schwäche. Das Brexit-Chaos vervollständigt den Eindruck:
Kerneuropas Zustand ist desolat.
Brexiteers Feel Heat
UK prime minister Theresa May announced her new Brexit strategy on Monday: Plan B is Plan A.
But Brexiteers and the DUP are starting to feel the heat.
Some might back her plan if she can win more concessions in Brussels. May promised to go back to the EU to address the backstop, which
Brexiteers hate and the DUP opposes. They are now under pressure to back her deal or lose Brexit.
A group of MPs aim to force May to extend the Article 50 exit process if no deal is in place by the end of February. Work and pensions
secretary Amber Rudd says many ministers would quit if they were not allowed to support the move.
Brexiteers fear a delay could let parliament push for a second EU referendum. War gaming for a snap election is also under way. Either
could lose Brexit.
Greenland Ice Melting
Greenland's ice is melting faster than we previously thought, new research finds. Its glaciers are dumping ever larger icebergs into the Atlantic, but
the largest ice loss in the decade from 2003 occurred in SW Greenland, where surface ice is melting as temperatures rise, causing meltwater to flow
into the ocean and push up sea levels.
PNAS paper lead author Michael Bevis: "Increasingly large amounts of ice mass are
going to leave as meltwater, as rivers that flow into the sea. The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming — it's
too late for there to be no effect. This is going to cause additional sea level rise. We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point."
Greenland lost around 280 billion tons of ice per year between 2002 and 2016, and the ice melted four times faster in 2013 than in 2003.
If the entire Greenland ice sheet, 3 km thick in places, were to melt, global sea levels would rise by 7 m and flood coastal cities.
Asteroids Hit Moon and Earth
Some 290 million years ago, large asteroids began to rain down on Earth several times more frequently than before.
Collisions in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter made rocky fragments in similar orbits. Solar heat nudged them into new
positions and sometimes made them fall and hit Earth.
On Earth, most large impact craters are relatively young. Craters from over 650 million years ago vanished as Earth scoured off much of
its crust. In the snowball Earth scenario, multiple waves of glaciation once encased the planet in ice. The glaciers pulverised several km of
continental rock and dumped it into the ocean.
On the Moon, when an impactor digs a crater it scatters boulders around it. Over perhaps a billion years, a drizzle of micrometeorites
hitting the Moon dissolve the boulders into finer soils called regolith. So the ratio of rocks to regolith in a crater tracks the time since the
During the day, both boulders and regolith soak up heat. At night, the boulders hold on to this heat, glowing faintly with thermal
radiation for hours, whereas the regolith cools quickly. The nighttime IR glow indicates the relative rockiness of a crater and thus its age.
Researchers used IR data to estimate the age of 111 big lunar craters. Since about 290 million years ago, big impacts have been
2.6 times more frequent than in the preceding 710 million years. The jump occurred around the same time as Earth's largest mass extinction,
the Great Dying.
Daniel Monk / Bav Media
Super blood wolf moon over Northumberland
MiG-31K with hypersonic
Me at work today
Fog in Westminster:
Continent cut off
Chase Design Studios
2019 January 21
Brexit Options Narrowing
Tony Blair says a no-deal Brexit will not happen. The future UK relationship with the EU is so vague that Europeans must prepare for continuing struggle.
Parliament is tied up, there is no consensus, and the UK should not even consider no deal: "A second vote remains the only solution."
Business Confidence Sinking
ICSA finds that 73% of FTSE 350 company secretaries predict their company will be damaged as a result of Brexit. Some 11% think global economic
conditions are likely to improve in 2019, but only 2% think the UK economy will improve in 2019. The research was conducted at the end of 2018.
ICSA policy and research director Peter Swabey says a public lack of trust in business is reflected in political rhetoric: "This seems
to have produced an own goal for the main UK political parties."
Rebel Spirit Rising
Wetherspoons pub chain founder and chairman Tim Martin has been on the road since November, speaking at his pubs. His case for Brexit is unconvincing
to the point of tedium. But the spectacle of the Brexit hardcore, many of them on the pints and riled to fury by interruptions from local Remoaners,
Terrible logic, combined with a certain stubborn ignorance, makes them insist that the only Brexit that matches what millions of people
thought they were voting for in 2016 is a clean break. Their defiant rejection of all the warnings about falling off a cliff edge comes from the
same performative "fuck you" as moved much of the original vote for leave.
The pub crowd wants drama and crisis. The romantic idea of a besieged Brexit Britain nobly trying to make its way without interference
from Brussels, an island nation standing alone, could push UK politics over the edge.
2019 January 20
Brexit: Wer kann das Chaos noch verhindern?
ARD, 61:54 min
Über den Brexit diskutiert Anne Will mit Jean Asselborn, Sahra Wagenknecht, Norbert Röttgen,
Greg Hands und Kate Connolly.
Behavioral surplus is the data we give to tech companies over and above what they need. For example, if you have googled fridges, Google will try to
sell you a fridge. It is the raw data for modeling human behavior.
At Google, the monetization of your surplus raised revenues from $86 million in 2001 to $347 million in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2004.
By 2016, Google and Facebook took more than a fifth of all advertising spending in the world.
Shoshana Zuboff goes beyond the idea that if you aren't the customer, you're the product. For her, we are more like elephants slaughtered
for ivory: "You are not the product, you are the abandoned carcass."
Google and Facebook want to know everything about you. For them, the development of AI and VR is all about knowing anything you might
ever do, and everywhere you might go, so as to sell you a Coke when you get there.
Regulating tech is like running around a burning house closing doors to rooms that won't exist in the morning. Breaking up Facebook and
Google only means 50 rival companies will leech on your soul.
Brains use a spatial coding scheme that may help us navigate many kinds of information, including sights, sounds, and abstract concepts.
The entorhinal cortex next to the hippocampus contains grid cells that make cognitive maps. Grid cells form a coordinate system by firing
at regularly spaced positions in a hexagonal pattern. Different sets of grid cells form grids with larger or smaller hexagons, grids oriented in
other directions, and grids offset from one another.
Together, such hexagons can map spaces with many dimensions. Grid code logic can apply to any structured data.
2019 January 19
The Dodo Is Dead
Brexit is a choice between two evils: the heroic but catastrophic failure of crashing out or the unheroic but less damaging failure of swapping first-class
for second-class EU membership.
Brexit is not about the UK relationship with the EU. The drama has really served to displace a crisis of belonging. The visible collapse of
the Westminster polity this week may be a result of Brexit, but it is also the result of the invisible subsidence of the political order over recent
Brexit is the outward projection of an inner turmoil. An archaic political system had carried on while its foundations in collective
belonging were crumbling. Brexit has forced the old system to play out its death throes in public. The spectacle is ugly, but it shows the need for
Britain can no longer pretend to be a settled and functioning democracy. The Westminster dodo is dead. The problem with British democracy
is not the EU but the UK.
I Want My Continent Back
Today the UK turns remain. Even if not a single person has changed their mind since the referendum, the demographic shift alone has done the heavy lifting.
Enough old leavers have died and enough young remainers have come on to the electoral register to turn the tide.
This does not guarantee remain would win a referendum this year. People change their minds, though polls show the main movement is toward
remain. But once a ferocious campaign gets under way no one knows what might swing opinion.
Theresa May's red lines have led to deadlock. Jeremy Corbyn's red line is no no-deal Brexit. Logic suggests the only answer that will rescue
both party leaders is a people's vote.
AR Parliament has passed all the legislation to ensure that if no further action is taken, the UK leaves the EU on 29 March.
No deal is yet agreed. If the government calls a general election now, parliament is dissolved and no new legislation can prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Mass civil disobedience can head off that catastrophe. People can boycott an election to protest against the cynical motive behind it.
They need only pledge in advance not to participate in any general election called to run down the clock.
Only a reset of the article 50 deadline followed by a people's vote can break the deadlock. Proclaim these facts and urge parliament
to prevent a default Brexit.
2019 January 18
Star Wars II
President Trump has announced the biggest push for US missile defense since Ronald Reagan's "star wars" plan with a pledge to test space-based weapons
to defend America and attack its enemies. He announced 20 new ground-based interceptors in Alaska to detect and destroy incoming missiles.
Trump: "We are ordering the finest weapons in the world, that you can be sure of. Our goal is simple: to detect and destroy any missile
launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, any place. The best way to keep America safe is to keep America strong."
President Putin has also unveiled new strategic weapons, including a hypersonic glide vehicle that can fly at Mach 20 and make sharp turns
to avoid interception.
Europe Needs Britain
For decades the European Union has brought our peoples closer together. It has forged a European identity and lays the foundation for peace in Europe.
Within this fruitful environment our nations have equally prospered.
A Brexit with no deal puts all these achievements at risk. Germans are deeply committed to a close relationship with the UK. We want
you to stay. This sentiment is broadly shared in Germany.
After this week's parliamentary vote against the Brexit deal, there seems to be no majority in the House of Commons for any way forward.
With only two options on the table, a hard Brexit or Remain, the British people may want to hold a second vote. If they need more time, I cannot
imagine the EU will disagree.
Europe needs Britain, especially in these troubled times.
Sir, Without your great nation, this continent would not be what it is today: a community defined by freedom and prosperity. After the horrors of the
second world war, Britain did not give up on us. We are grateful.
Should Britain wish to leave the European Union for good, it will always have friends in Germany and Europe. But Britons should equally
know that we believe that no choice is irreversible. Our door will always remain open: Europe is home.
We would miss Britain. We would miss the British people, our friends across the Channel. We would miss Britain as part of the EU,
especially in these troubled times. We want them to stay.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Norbert Röttgen, and 29 other leading figures in Germany
2019 January 17
The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class
Britain made a calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947 when it left India partitioned. The British exit from the EU is proving to be another
act of moral dereliction by British rulers.
In a grotesque irony, imperial borders imposed in 1921 on Ireland have proved to be the biggest stumbling block for the Brexiteers
chasing imperial virility.
People in Ireland are aghast over the aggressive ignorance of English Brexiteers. Business people everywhere are outraged by their
cavalier disregard for the economic consequences of Brexit.
The malign incompetence of the Brexiteers was precisely prefigured during the rushed British exit from India in 1947. Up to one
million people died in the botched partition.
The mention of Winston Churchill stiffens the spines of many Brexiteers today. Churchill, a fanatical imperialist, worked harder
than any British politician to thwart Indian independence.
The rolling calamity of Brexit threatens bloodshed in Ireland, secession in Scotland, and chaos in Dover. Ordinary British people
stand to suffer from the exit wounds.
2019 January 16
Putin Smiles at US and UK
The news just keeps on getting better for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The United States and Britain, the two great English-speaking democracies that led Moscow's defeat in the Cold War, are undergoing
In London, Theresa May suffered the worst defeat by a prime minister in UK parliamentary history.
The United States remains locked in its longest-ever government shutdown, thanks to the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump.
London and Washington are suffering the effects of populist revolts that erupted in 2016 and are now slamming into legislatures and
The result is that Britain and the United States are all but ungovernable on important questions that confront both nations.
Putin has made disrupting liberal democracies a core aim of his rule, as he seeks to avenge the fall of the Soviet empire.
EU Responds to UK Vote
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening.
The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its
intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up."
European Council president Donald Tusk: "If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage
to say what the only positive solution is?"
"Die britische Politik ist nach wie vor nicht bereit, die Konsequenzen der Brexit-Entscheidung anzunehmen, und deshalb kann sie
auch nicht wissen, was sie eigentlich von der EU will. Aus diesem Grund ist es auch wenig sinnvoll, von der restlichen EU zu verlangen, auf
die Regierung in London zuzugehen."
Brexiteers like the feeling that they have been betrayed by the political establishment. Well, a deal has been negotiated that would allow us to
leave and you, the Brexiteers, defeated it.
It is we who have been betrayed. Those who faithfully and diligently tried to make Brexit happen smoothly and on time, even though
we had our doubts, have been left high and dry.
The Brexiteer rebels are now saying Brexit could mean leaving without any trade deal, breaking the Good Friday agreement, failing
to settle financially with our continental allies, and departing without a transition arrangement.
If they really believe the majority of voters support this burn-it-all-down Brexit, let's have another referendum and ask the
AR Withdraw Article 50 or delay its effect to give time for a vote.
2019 January 15
Brexit Deal Defeated
BBC News, 1939 UTC
The government is defeated on its proposed Brexit deal by a majority of 230.
The result of the vote is 202 in favour and 432 against.
Brexit: Think and Act Anew
The crisis at the heart of UK democracy can no longer be ignored.
Russell Brand: "People saw a bright red button that said Fuck Off Establishment, and they pressed it."
The 2016 referendum result should tell us that people want hope. The Remain campaign was seen primarily as defending the status quo,
with the political elite pulling the strings. The campaign utterly failed to inspire any kind of love for the EU as something worth defending.
The EU is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity, and freedom in history. That astonishing achievement ought to be
front and centre of the Brexit conversation. So too the social and environmental protections, and the remarkable gift of free movement, and the
friendships across borders, the cultural opportunities, the life without fear, and the solidarity. To have reduced all that to an argument about
the cost of a trolley load of shopping was a tragedy.
Decisions made in the EU affect us every day, so let's talk about EU politics. The EU must dismantle the habitual domination of
corporate power over the will of citizens. Such reforms are long overdue, and we should advocate changing the EU at the same time as fighting
to stay part of it.
Brexit laid bare the extent to which UK governance structures are derelict. The Palace of Westminster, Gothic, rat-infested, and
crumbling into the Thames, has become a symbol of political decay. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people.
We the people must lead the way.
Brexit: Anfang vom Ende Europas?
Gibt es ein zweites Brexit-Referendum? Ein Misstrauensvotum gegen May? Tatsächlich einen ungeregelten Brexit? Wie lange werden die
Staus zwischen London und Dover? Fordert die AfD irgendwann ein Referendum über den Verbleib Deutschlands in der EU?
Londoner Politologe Anthony Glees: "Mein Land ist in tiefstem Chaos." Einen "Irrsinn" nannte er den Brexit und forderte zwar, die
Entscheidung zu respektieren, befand aber: "Weil eine Mehrheit etwas wählt, bedeutet das nicht, dass es richtig war."
Europäischen Volkspartei Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber beklagte, dass man sich ein wenig hängen gelassen fühle von
Großbritannien, was die Vermittlung von Ideen zur künftigen Zusammenarbeit angehe.
Beatrix von Storch (AfD): Man selbst wolle ein Bündnis souveräner Nationalstaaten, in dem Entscheidungen nach einer
Kosten-Nutzen-Kalkulation getroffen würden. Ein riesiges Chaos gebe es in Großbritannien nicht.
AR Beware of cost-benefit analysis: The costs of a political union cannot be quantified or its benefits predicted.
2019 January 14
UK prime minister Theresa May today spoke to workers at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She warned Brexiteers that staying in the EU is now more
likely than their goal of leaving with no deal.
She said parliament has a duty to implement the result of the 2016 referendum:
"If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state. No doubt the disagreements would have continued
too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the EU in spite of a vote to remain or that
we should return to the question in another referendum."
AR I begin to sense a retreat once St Theresa has endured her Commons crucifixion tomorrow.
A Space Elevator
The future of space travel may be an elevator shaft that can transport people and equipment directly into low Earth orbit. A Japanese corporation aims
to develop a space elevator by 2050, and China has its sights set on building one by 2045.
The sky lobby of a space elevator needs to orbit at the same speed as Earth rotates, with its center of mass some 36 Mm over our heads
in geostationary orbit (GSO). A successful space elevator will need to stretch much further, with a tether nearly 100 Mm long, extending well
beyond GSO, and strong enough to lift satellites and astronauts into space.
Keeping the base of such an enormous structure safe, engineers suggest placing the Earth end of the tether near the equator, where
hurricanes almost never form. To avoid collisions with space junk, it should ideally be anchored on a mobile ocean platform.
Researchers in Japan have sent a miniature space elevator to the International Space Station for release into orbit. Two 10 cm
satellites tied together by an 11 m steel cable are passing a tiny climber back and forth while researchers monitor the system.
To install a full-size cable, put a satellite in orbit, carrying many Mm of wire, and have it dangle the wire down to Earth. Send a
small mechanical climber up that wire carrying a second ribbon. Repeat this process with ever bigger climbers, adding more and more ribbons, to
weave a sturdy cable leading from the ground to the orbiting cluster of climbers acting as a counterweight to keep the elevator's center of
mass up in GSO.
Because all the mass below GSO pulls down on the elevator shaft, and all that above pulls it up, the tether will be in great tension.
To hold it all together, we need a strong material. The top candidates are carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets.
International Space Elevator Consortium president Peter Swan: "When you can provide scalable, inexpensive and reliable access to space,
capabilities emerge that will benefit those on Earth."
AR I guess this will take longer than its enthusiasts expect.
Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk reveals assembled Starship hopper prototype for suborbital VTOL tests
Starshot light sail
"I'm not saying I'm a Trump fan,
I'm just saying, it's bad in
America, but it's a thousand
times worse in Britain."
British army fights
to attract recruits
Quantum error correction
Fish in a tiling illustrate
EU vs Russia
Putin has made destabilization
of other countries the guiding
principle of his foreign policy
2019 January 13
Brexit: Case For People's Vote
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard
As the Brexit clock ticks on, the case for a people's vote grows stronger:
☆ A clear majority of MPs opposes the government's proposed withdrawal deal. The government
is now braced for a heavy defeat on Tuesday evening.
☆ Crashing out in March with nothing agreed is not the only option if the Commons votes down
the deal. MPs can block a no-deal Brexit.
☆ Parliament can take back control. The government will have to bring forward a new plan
within three days. A people's vote amendment can be tabled.
☆ The ECJ confirms that the UK has the absolute right to stop the Article 50 process, withdraw
its notice, and remain in the EU.
UK polls now show a consistent 8% lead in favour of staying in the EU. The lead is 16 to 26 points
for a choice between staying and
either the government's deal or no deal.
Stop and Think
Sir John Major
Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be deeply harmful for the UK. Every single household would be worse off for many years to come. The only
sensible course now is for the government to revoke article 50 and suspend any decision on departure.
2019 January 12
Alan J. Steinberg
Trump will not be removed from office by the constitutional impeachment process. Instead, he will use his presidency as a bargaining chip with federal
and state authorities in 2019, agreeing to leave office in exchange for their not pursuing criminal charges against him.
Aside from all the legal nightmares facing Trump and his presidency, it appears virtually impossible for Trump to be reelected in 2020.
The economy appears headed for a severe recession, as evidenced by the recent plunge in the stock market.
With his approval ratings in an abysmal state, and the forthcoming recession making it near impossible for Trump to stage a political
recovery, it appears most likely that he will use the continuation of his presidency as a bargaining chip.
Two of the biggest donors to the Brexit campaign say they now expect the UK to stay in the EU despite their campaign victory in the 2016 referendum.
Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey does not believe there will be a second referendum or that Brexit will happen either. He is now positioning
for the pound to strengthen from $1.27 to about $1.34.
Billionaire Peter Hargreaves says the political establishment is determined to scuttle Brexit, first by asking the EU for an extension to
the exit process and then by calling for a second referendum.
Beauty Shapes Evolution
Numerous species have conspicuous, costly, and burdensome sexual ornaments. To reconcile such splendid beauty with a utilitarian view of evolution,
biologists have favored the idea that beauty in the animal kingdom is an indicator of health, intelligence, and survival skills.
Charles Darwin proposed that ornaments evolved through sexual selection. Females choose the most appealing males according to their
standard of beauty. In this way, beauty can be the glorious flowering of arbitrary preference, nothing to do with survival.
Two environments govern the evolution of sentient creatures: an external one, which they inhabit, and an internal one, which they
construct. To understand evolution, we must uncover the hidden links between those two worlds.
Richard Prum says animals are agents in their own evolution. Dinosaurs originally evolved feathers, he says, because they found them
beautiful. Birds transformed them into enviable adaptations, but they never abandoned their sense of style.
Environment constrains anatomy, which determines how a creature experiences the world, which generates adaptive and arbitrary
preferences, which loop back to alter its biology, sometimes in maladaptive ways. In humans, many types of physical beauty and sexual desire
have arbitrarily co-evolved without reference to health or fertility.
Flowers expose the futility of trying to contain beauty in a single theoretical framework. Early pollen-producing plants depended
on the wind to spread their pollen and reproduce. But certain insects began to eat those pollen grains, inadvertently transporting them from
one plant to another. Through a long process of co-evolution, plants and pollinators formed increasingly specific relationships, driving each
other toward aesthetic and adaptive extremes.
Beauty evolves in a dialogue between perceiver and perceived.
AR Beauty is epiphenomenal to evolution by natural selection rather as consciousness is epiphenomenal to cognitive
processing in a cerebral neuronet.
2019 January 11
Brexit: World Is Watching
The world is watching the UK as it exits the EU.
Japan and the UK have been building a very strong partnership. For Japan, the UK is the gateway to the European market.
It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership.
We hope a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.
Brexit: Delay Withdrawal
When Theresa May puts her Brexit deal to the Commons next Tuesday she will face a major defeat. She must then return to the Commons within
three days with a proposed Plan B. MPs can amend her new motion and debate alternative Brexit plans.
Eurasia Group managing director Mujtaba Rahman: "A three-month extension to Article 50 would now make sense."
Black Hole Stability Conjecture Solved
Imperial College London physicist Gustav Holzegel has won the prestigious Blavatnik Award and a cash prize for calculating what happens when a
black hole is perturbed. Solutions to the black hole stability conjecture had eluded physicists for decades.
From his award citation: "Professor Holzegel has pushed the frontiers of our understanding of the universe as outlined by the
general relativity theory."
Holzegel proves that a perturbed black hole will settle down into a stable form. He proved a version of the conjecture for
spherical black holes in 2016. His new work applies to any kind of black hole.
How Machines Think
Interpretability can mean studying a neural network with scientific experiments to understand the details about the model, how it reacts, and
that sort of thing.
Interpretability for responsible AI means understanding just enough to safely use the tool. We can create that understanding by
confirming that useful human knowledge is reflected in the tool.
Doctors using a machine-learning model for diagnosis will want to know that their own diagnostic knowledge is reflected in the
model. A machine-learning model that pays attention to these factors is more understandable, because it reflects the knowledge of the doctors.
Prior to this, interpretability methods only explained what neural networks were doing in terms of input features. If you have an image,
every single pixel is an input feature. But humans communicate with concepts.
Testing with Concept Activation Vectors (TCAV) does sensitivity testing. When you add a new diagnostic concept, you can output the
probability of a certain prediction as a number between 0 and 1, its TCAV score. If the probability increases, it is an important concept to the model.
To validate the concept, a statistical testing procedure rejects the concept vector if it has the same effect on the model as a random
vector. If your concept fails this test, the TCAV will tell you the concept looks unimportant to the model.
Humans are gullible. It is easy to fool a person into trusting something. The goal of interpretability for machine learning is to resist
this, to tell you if a system is not safe to use.
Inherently interpretable models reflect how humans reason. Having humans in the loop, and enabling the conversation between machines
and humans, is the crux of interpretability.
2019 January 10
In October 2017, the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii detected an object moving so fast it must have come from beyond our solar system, making it the
first visitor from outer space that we know of. We called it Oumuamua.
It was quite a mystery. Its brightness changes dramatically, suggesting a very strange shape. A sphere would always reflect the same
amount of sunlight. Only a disk or a cigar-shaped body would flicker while rotating.
The more we found out about Oumuamua, the weirder it got. Its orbit differs significantly from an orbit shaped by solar gravitation.
Some additional force was acting on it. If it was a comet, it might have emitted gases while flying past the Sun, but no comet tail was observed.
And its rotation should have changed during outgassing, but this effect was not observed either.
The other force acting on Oumuamua is the pressure of the sunlight. Solar radiation could only have a visible effect if it is a very
thin object, less than 1 mm thick. If Oumuamua is a randomly wandering object, every solar system would have to produce millions of billions of
such objects. If it's not random, it could be a targeted mission, an artificial product, a light sail made by intelligent beings.
The Breakthrough Starshot project started when Yuri Milner asked me in 2015 if I would be willing to lead a project to send a probe to
Proxima Centauri, 4 light years away from Earth. To get there within our lifetime, it would have to travel at 0.2c.
A light sail, accelerated by a powerful laser from Earth, seemed to be the only feasible way. The idea is to accelerate the probe with
a 100 GW laser beam for a few minutes. With many small infrared lasers across an area of 100 ha, we could focus the beam up to about five times the
distance to the Moon and accelerate the probe to 0.2c.
We plan a payload of about 1 g. The probe needs a camera and a navigation and communication device. And we need a sail material that
almost completely reflects the incoming laser light. To receive the radio signal the probe sends back, we will need a big radio telescope on Earth.
We can send a lot of probes into space once the launch system is constructed, because the expensive part is the infrastructure of the laser beam.
The probes themselves will be relatively cheap.
Oumuamua is moving too fast for a rocket, but with a laser-driven light sail we could catch up with it. We only became aware of it
after it had already left, but we will study the next visitor earlier and more thoroughly.
White dwarfs are stellar embers depleted of nuclear energy sources that cool over billions of years. These stars are supported by electron degeneracy
pressure and reach core densities of 10 Gg/l.
A phase transition occurs during white dwarf cooling, leading to the crystalization of the non-degenerate C and O ions in the core.
This releases latent heat and delays the cooling process by about a billion years. The cooling is further slowed by the liberation of gravitational
energy from element sedimentation in the core.
"All white dwarfs will crystalize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner. This means that
billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky."
2019 January 9
Trump: US Governance Crisis
The New York Times
President Trump is painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him,
as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues
to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances.
Most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.
Brexit: UK Government Failure
Brexit is not a policy prescription for UK problems. For many Tories, it is an attitude of mind, an amorphous resentment against the modern world.
There has been a collective floundering across the political spectrum. Britain is living through a period of national democratic failure.
Badly framed referendums are a crude way of making democratic decisions and empower those who shout loudest.
Brexit has exposed the decrepit nature of UK constitutional arrangements and UK politics. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better
rooted in the people. Other forms of debate are essential buttresses of the parliamentary process.
Britain should pause the article 50 process and put Brexit on hold. The government has failed, so we must go back to the people.
Brexit: Plan B in 3 Days
BBC News, 1436 UTC
MPs have voted to force the government to return to parliament with a plan B within three days if the withdrawal deal is rejected next week,
by 308 votes to 297.
Brexit: End of Days Scenario
Government calls a general election for April 4, parliament goes into recess, cutting off further debate or votes, and no-deal Brexit happens on
March 29 while politicians are out campaigning.
AR The fixed-term parliaments act ensures that this can only happen after the house passes a vote of no confidence in the government,
which is already an extreme scenario.
2019 January 8
Brexit: No No Deal
BBC News, 1921 UTC
MPs have backed an amendment to the Finance Bill that limits spending on no-deal Brexit preparations unless authorised by parliament,
by 303 to 296 votes.
AR Relief — I trust this means no-deal Brexit is off the menu.
Brexit: The Uncivil War
James Graham's TV drama was rollickingly good entertainment, but it wasn't really the story of the Leave and Remain campaigns. It was the story of
Dominic Cummings, brilliantly done by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cummings was shown running rings intellectually around MPs and old-guard Brexiteers, basically delivering the Leave victory through
vision and data mining, putting that £350 million for the NHS claim on the side of the bus, and devising the "Take Back Control" slogan.
Credit must go to Graham for making something about Brexit enjoyable. A final verdict from Cummings resonated: "It's all gone crap."
AR The drama did well to catch the way Cummings raised demons with the immigration issue to demolish a weak and complacent
2019 January 7
Europe of Nations
Right-wing populists seek a Europe of Nations. In May 2019, they could gain enough seats in the European Parliament to turn back the clock on
Italian Lega party member and interior minister Matteo Salvini: "There are people who have betrayed the European dream. But we will
give our blood and veins for a new Europe."
In Austria, FPÖ member and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache cultivates relations with fellow populists across Europe:
"We can save Europe."
Russian president Vladimir Putin's United Russia party has a cooperation agreement with the FPÖ and with right-wing parties
in neighboring countries, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party.
There are two right-wing populist groups in the European Parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and the
Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), plus the more moderate groups European People's Party (EPP) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
Salvini wants to see refugees distributed more fairly across Europe. But the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party is adamantly opposed,
as is Orbán in Hungary. The European right wing is also divided on relations with Russia.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) includes members who question the legitimacy of the German-Polish border. German parliament AfD
co-leader Alice Weidel is critical of Italy: "Germany cannot become Italy's paymaster!"
Orbán stigmatizes refugees in alarmist terms. His government built a razor-wire border fence and demanded that the EU pay for it.
He is fond of posing as the savior of the Christian West. His Fidesz party belongs to the EPP group in the European Parliament.
Hungary depends on EU subsidies adding up to €40 billion by the end of 2017. The same is true of Poland, led by the PiS party.
Yet Poland and Hungary cause trouble in Brussels.
European nationalists say they are the people and will drive out the elites. From May, the ECR will lose British MEPs with Brexit,
giving PiS a leading role in the group.
Lega, FPÖ, AfD, and Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National could join the ENF group. Together they could make up over 20% of
the European Parliament.
AR Without the calming presence of the UK, the EU could turn ugly.
The Brexit psychodrama goes on. It is difficult for outsiders to believe that the UK has put itself in this absurd and reckless position. Ireland must
respond, because Brexit will affect it more severely than any other EU member.
Brexiteers have consistently failed to acknowledge that the UK departure from the EU will have negative consequences for other countries.
Their ignorance of Irish history and of the special sensitivities of the border ought to shame them.
Jacob Rees-Mogg even had the effrontery last week to blame the Irish government for the bind in which the UK finds itself. The proper
response is to reiterate why the backstop is an essential part of any withdrawal agreement.
Almost everybody on the island of Ireland, except the DUP and a cohort of other unionists, wishes the UK to remain in the EU.
AR Most other interested parties do too.
2019 January 6
China, Space Superpower
China is making a tremendous effort to become a space power.
Heritage Foundation China expert Dean Cheng: "In some ways the US has fallen behind China. You cannot be more glaring in your deficiency
than having lost the ability to put a person into space. China is able to do this. Currently the US is not."
Space expert Namrata Goswami: "There has been a tendency to underplay Chinese achievements in space .. But they have shown that they are
capable of doing very difficult feats away from Earth. That should be a wake-up call."
Goswami believes the Chinese have three long-term civilian goals in space:
☆ To establish a permanent presence on the Moon
☆ To use that presence as a base for deeper space exploration
☆ To focus on asteroids as a possible source of raw materials
Cheng: "Where China is ahead is thinking about the military roles of space .. This week's achievement is the product of at least a
decade of sustained funding and sustained programmatic stability."
British Imperial Nostalgia
Imperial nostalgia shadows the push for Brexit. Brexiteers conjure visions of Britain restored to its former glory once free of the EU. Empire 2.0
will arise from new trade deals with Commonwealth countries.
The Sunday Times: "A people who within living memory governed a quarter of the world's land area and a fifth of its population is
surely capable of governing itself without Brussels."
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt: "Britain's post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies
of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies."
UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson: "This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the second world war, when we can
recast ourselves in a different way. We can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play."
An anonymous Tory grandee: "We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this. The Irish really should know their place."
A Good British Spanking
Margaret Thatcher cut government spending and whacked up interest rates during a recession. She defied the experts, who warned that her policies
would deepen the recession, erode the UK industrial base, and threaten social and political stability.
Brexiteers tell voters a good spanking is worth it to restore national independence from Europe. Britain was never invaded by
Hitler or Stalin, so they are careless about the risk of leaving the EU.
Solar Thermal Fuel
Researchers have developed a fluid that absorbs solar energy, holds it for months or years, and then releases it when needed. Such a solar thermal fuel
can help replace fossil fuels.
As a pump cycles the fluid through transparent tubes, solar UV light excites its molecules into an energized state. The photons rearrange
bonds among the C, H, and N atoms to convert norbornadiene into quadricyclane. Because the energy is trapped in strong chemical bonds, it is retained
even when the fluid cools down.
To extract the stored energy, the activated fluid is passed over a cobalt-based catalyst. The quadricyclane molecules then transform back
into norbornadiene. This heats the fluid from room temperature up to about 80 C.
The fluid and the catalyst are not consumed by the reactions, so the system can run in a closed loop. The researchers have run it though
125 cycles without significant degradation.
Calculations show the fluid can store up to 900 kJ/kg, about 2% as much as gasoline. The next step is to optimize its shelf life,
energy density, and recyclability.
AR Thanks to Christian de Quincey for this.
2019 January 5
Qubits are superpositions of two states, |0⟩ and |1⟩. When qubits interact, their possible states become interdependent. The contingent
possibilities proliferate exponentially as many qubits become more and more entangled in a quantum computation.
Physical qubits are error-prone. The tiniest disturbance causes them to undergo bit-flips that switch their chances of being |0⟩
and |1⟩ relative to the other qubits, or phase-flips that invert the relationship between their two states. For quantum computers to work,
we need to protect the logic even when physical qubits get corrupted.
Quantum error-correcting codes exist, and they can theoretically push error rates close to zero. The best error-correcting codes can
typically recover all of the encoded information from slightly more than half of the physical qubits.
There is evidence of a deep connection between quantum error correction and the nature of spacetime and gravity. We think spacetime and
gravity somehow emerge from a quantum origin. This emergence works like a quantum error-correcting code, at least in anti-de Sitter (AdS) universes.
We live in a de Sitter universe with positive vacuum energy, but AdS space has negative vacuum energy, giving it a hyperbolic geometry.
Spatial dimensions radiating away from a center gradually shrink down to the universe's outer boundary.
The interior of a 4D AdS spacetime is holographically dual to a quantum field theory on the 3D gravity-free boundary. Any point in the
interior of AdS space could be constructed from slightly more than half of the boundary, just as in an optimal quantum error-correcting code. Such
a code can be understood as a 2D hologram.
In 2015, Daniel Harlow, John Preskill, Fernando Pastawski, and Beni Yoshida (HaPPY) found another holographic code that captures more
properties of AdS space. The code tiles space in 5-sided blocks, each one representing a single spacetime point. Think of the tiles as the fish in
an Escher tiling.
In the HaPPY code and other holographic error-correcting schemes, everything in a region of the interior spacetime called the entanglement
wedge can be reconstructed from qubits on an adjacent region of the boundary. Overlapping regions on the boundary have overlapping entanglement wedges,
just as a logical qubit can be reconstructed from many different subsets of physical qubits.
Preskill: "It's really entanglement which is holding the space together. If you want to weave spacetime together out of little pieces,
you have to entangle them in the right way. And the right way is to build a quantum error-correcting code."
Entanglement Weaves Spacetime
Spacetime emerges from entangled nodes in a network. Entanglement is the thread that weaves the fabric of spacetime. Curved spacetime emerges naturally
from entanglement in tensor networks via holography. Think of 2D program code for a virtual 3D game world. We live in the game space.
2019 January 4
Russia Chose Trump For Prez
Russia chose Donald Trump as the US presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo: "Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 US presidential race and asked, 'Which candidate would we like
to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?' And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for
the length of the elections, and ran him for president .. What we've seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the
tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share."
The US Senate commissioned a report finding that Russia had used every social media tool available to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor
of Trump. One described the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm:
"Run like a sophisticated marketing agency in a centralized office environment, the IRA employed and trained over a thousand people to
engage in round-the-clock influence operations, first targeting Ukrainian and Russian citizens, and then, well before the 2016 US election,
Americans .. They reached 126 million people on Facebook, at least 20 million users on Instagram,
1.4 million users on Twitter, and uploaded over a thousand videos to YouTube."
AR I discuss the Russian role in my essay Victory.
As 29 March 2019 gets closer, no deal is in sight that is acceptable to both Westminster and Brussels. The problem began before the 2016 referendum.
The Leave campaign was rife with delusions and dishonesty.
UK prime minister Theresa May laid down red lines:
✗ The UK will leave the EU and the single market and the customs union.
✗ The UK will not accept any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice.
✗ The UK will end the freedom of European citizens to come to the UK.
✗ The UK will not accept a hard border between Northern Ireland and Eire.
It is well-nigh impossible to negotiate an exit deal that meets them.
The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU outweigh the benefits.
AR Putin nudged the UK toward Brexit with his support for Leave.
Britain Needs A Plan
UK prime minister Theresa May is likely to fail with her proposed withdrawal agreement. As things stand, at 11:00:00 pm on 29 March 2019 the UK will
be a part of the EU and at 11:00:01 it won't.
With no deal, trade relations between the UK and the EU revert to basic WTO rules. Neither side can treat the other more favorably than
they treat other trade partners around the globe. A new customs regime would have to be installed. In the interim, confusion.
If May's agreement is voted down, parliament has to deal with the Brexit mess. Only Brextremists want a hard Brexit. MPs can vote to
give the decision back to the people with a new referendum.
AR I explore the strategic cost of hard Brexit in my story Ringlord.
Turing Model Builds Patterns
In 1952, Alan Turing devised an elegant mathematical model of pattern formation. His theory outlined how endless varieties of stripes, spots, and scales
could emerge from the interaction of two chemical agents, or morphogens. The mechanism lies behind the development of mammalian hair, the feathers of
birds, and even the denticles that cover the skin of sharks.
Turing's reaction-diffusion mechanism requires two interacting agents, an activator and an inhibitor, that diffuse through tissue. The
activator initiates a process and promotes its own production. The inhibitor halts both actions. The inhibitor spreads through tissue more quickly
and prevents pockets of activation from spilling over. The pockets of activation can appear as patterns of dots or stripes.
A mathematical model of activator and inhibitor interactions can produce patterns that match those of developing shark skin, feathers,
or hair. Reducing or blocking the expression of a gene and showing that the pattern disappears reveals which genes play roles in pattern production.
Once such a pattern is set, other mechanisms form denticles, feathers, or other epithelial appendages.
AR Mathematics lets us explain the evolution of biological diversity.
Chang'e 4 lunar surface image, far side of Moon
New Horizons image of
Ultima Thule, a world
33 km long over
6 Tm away
2019 January 3
The Far Side of the Moon
China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the Moon — a big first for its space program.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) landed the Chang'e 4 lunar probe at 0226 UTC today, in the South Pole−Aitken Basin.
The rover made our first close-up image of the far side of the Moon.
This success is a landmark in human space exploration. Since the Chang'e 4 rover cannot communicate directly with ground control,
China earlier launched a dedicated satellite orbiting the Moon to relay data from the rover to Earth.
The Chang'e 4 rover is 1.5 m long and about 1 m wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels. It will conduct a
number of tasks, including conducting a low-frequency radio astronomy experiment, observe whether plants will grow in the low-gravity environment,
look for water or other resources, and study the interaction between solar winds and the lunar surface.
CNSA Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center deputy director Tongjie Liu:
"Since the far side of the Moon is shielded from
electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it is an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can listen
to the deeper reaches of the cosmos."
US Naval War College professor Joan Johnson-Freese:
"It is highly likely that with the success of Chang'e and the concurrent
success of the human spaceflight Shenzhou program, the two programs will eventually be combined toward a Chinese human spaceflight program
to the Moon."
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine:
"This is a first for
humanity and an impressive accomplishment!"
2019 January 2
Jovian Moon Io
On 2018-12-21, NASA probe Juno cameras captured images of Jupiter's moon Io. When Juno was about 300 Mm from Io, JunoCam acquired three
images of Io, all showing a volcanic plume near the terminator. JunoCam, the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), the Jovian Infrared
Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) observed Io for over an hour.
Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton: "We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io's polar
region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon's surface."
The decision in 2016 to renew the UK nuclear deterrent and build four new submarines at a cost of £31 billion could sink the UK defence budget.
The total 2017/18 defence budget was £37 billion.
A funding gap of up to £15 billion in the MoD equipment program looms over the next decade. The gap stems mainly from Dreadnought,
the nuclear deterrent submarine renewal program, described as "the ultimate guarantee" of UK security.
The cost of the nuclear deterrent includes maintaining the present fleet of V-boats, the Trident missile system, the British nuclear
warheads, and building four new Dreadnought submarines. All this makes up a big fraction of the MoD budget.
BAE Systems is building the new submarines, which will be 153 m long and displace 17 200 tons. They will be powered by a new Rolls-Royce
nuclear reactor, posing a big risk to the project, and will each have 12 Trident missile tubes.
Jane's Fighting Ships consultant editor Richard Scott: "You hear comments about the disproportionate impact the deterrent has on the
overall defence budget."
AR Form a commission to review the strategic purpose of UK nuclear weapons.
2019 New Year's Day
The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do
things. As computers proliferated, the humans providing instructions could no longer keep up.
The digital revolution has come full circle and the analog revolution has begun. To those seeking autonomy and control among machines,
the domain of analog computing is the place to look. The next revolution is the assembly of digital components into analog computers.
Nature uses digital coding for processing sequences of nucleotides, but relies on analog coding and analog computing for intelligence
and control. In analog computing, complexity resides in topology, not code. Analog computers embrace noise.
Analog computation can be implemented in solid state. Algorithms and digital simulations loom large in our culture but other forms of
computation effectively control much of the world.
The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines
human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought.
The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. These new hybrid organizations are
operating as analog computers on a global scale.
AR This is the global brain: Globorg
2018 Was Putin's Year
President Vladimir Putin of Russia had a good 2018.
In March, Putin sailed to a re-election victory, winning a fourth term by a handsome margin. The Kremlin even secured high turnout
numbers to claim a broad mandate.
In June and July, Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a resounding triumph for Putin. More than 3 million fans attended
matches in 12 stadiums across Russia. FIFA praised the Russia tournament as the best World Cup to date.
The games allowed Russia to show its side after years of political isolation and confrontation with the West following the 2014
annexation of Crimea and the imposition of economic sanctions.
Russia is still locked in a confrontation with the United States and the West. Its economy lost years of growth in the wake of
the 2014 annexation of Crimea. New sanctions could further cripple the economy.
In September, Putin said the two suspects named by UK authorities over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal
and his daughter in Salisbury were not criminals and suggested the pair come forward. They did, and an investigative website revealed their
The World Cup provided a welcome respite to bad headlines. Visitors saw a country that could roll out the red carpet.
Putin: "Millions of people have changed their views on Russia. It is a big achievement."
Imaging a Black Hole
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has made its first observations of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
Nine radio observatories around the world, including four in America and one in Antarctica, make up the EHT. Together they make a virtual
telescope spanning the planet.
In April 2017, the EHT looked at two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way and the much more
massive black hole at the center of galaxy M87. The images will be the first proof that black hole event horizons exist.
The observations could also help us formulate a theory of quantum gravity.
AR This could be good.
2018 New Year's Eve
Da ist die Schicksalsfrage des Klimawandels, die der Steuerung und Ordnung der Migration, da ist der Kampf gegen den internationalen
Terrorismus. In unserem eigenen Interesse wollen wir alle diese Fragen lösen, und das können wir am besten, wenn wir die Interessen
Deutschland wird ab morgen für zwei Jahre Mitglied im UN-Sicherheitsrat sein und sich dort für globale Lösungen
einsetzen. Wir steigern unsere Mittel für humanitäre Hilfe und Entwicklungshilfe, aber auch unsere Verteidigungsausgaben weiter.
Um Arbeitsplätze, Wohlstand und unsere Lebensgrundlagen zu sichern, geht die Bundesregierung konsequent die nächsten Schritte
beim Strukturwandel von traditionellen zu neuen Technologien und setzt ihre Strategie für den digitalen Fortschritt um.
Wir müssen im eigenen Interesse mehr Verantwortung übernehmen. Und mit Großbritannien wollen wir trotz des Austritts
aus der Europäischen Union weiter eine enge Partnerschaft bewahren.
Immer häufiger aber auch um den Stil unseres Miteinanders, um unsere Werte: Offenheit, Toleranz und Respekt. Diese Werte haben
unser Land stark gemacht.
AR Perfekt formuliert, kann ich nur zustimmen.
2018 December 30
New Year Greetings
★ Greetings to President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping. Relations of comprehensive
trust-based partnership and strategic interaction between the Russian Federation and the
People's Republic of China have reached an unprecedented level.
★ Greetings to President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron. Russian-French relations have
great potential, which was confirmed by our recent meetings and talks.
★ To Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel, I note the significant experience of cooperation between our two countries in
various spheres and hope for continued joint work on the bilateral and international agendas
★ Greetings to President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella and Chairman of the Council of
Ministers of the Italian Republic Giuseppe Conte.
★ Heartfelt wishes of happiness, prosperity and success to King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of
Spain, other members of the royal family and all Spanish people.
★ Greetings to President of the Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am pleased with the
auspicious development of Russia-Turkey relations.
★ Greetings to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
and Prime Minister Theresa May. I wish them and their family members good health, happiness
and every success, and the British people well-being and prosperity.
★ Greetings to President of the United States of America Donald Trump. Russia-US relations are
the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security. Russia
is open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda.
AR No greetings for Germany?
Putin: My Take
President Vladimir Putin is flexing Russian military might with a new hypersonic missile.
We remain far from the Cold War. The United States is nowhere near the roughly 10% of GDP it was devoting to defense at the height
of that confrontation. Moscow is far from the expenditure that brought the Soviet Union crashing down and is also a long way short of US defense
We now inhabit countries that are economically interdependent. Moscow oligarchs own property in London, while Chinese national
wealth is tied up in American Treasury bonds. We live in a world that can at best be described as divided by forms of governance, rather than by
Moscow sees the current confusion as a prime environment in which to assert its influence abroad and build a narrative at home
of international power and importance. Moscow regards the West as an adversary to worry about. The threat is to the leadership rather
than national ideology.
On both sides there is a surprising lack of insight into what the other is thinking.
UK: My Task
Singapore is rich. About 200 years ago a British adventurer founded it. Our connection persists.
The UK may no longer be a superpower but we are still very much a global power. We have some of the best global connections.
British personal links combine with centuries of trade routes, military campaigns, and missionary work to make us one of the best-connected
countries on the planet.
Those of us who wish to for an orderly departure of the UK from the EU have a simple task.
2018 December 29
President Trump's political status is now hurtling downhill. Unless he resigns, public pressure on the Democratic leaders to begin an
impeachment process in 2019 will only increase.
The founders put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the
representatives of the people who elected him. But they wrote into the Constitution provisions to make it extremely difficult for Congress
to remove a president from office.
Trump will be looking for a way out, but he will want future legal protection. Politicians in both parties may want to make a
deal to get him out.
Brexit: Second Referendum
The prime minister has delivered a plan for Brexit that she feels is the best the UK can achieve, given her red lines. Any
rational examination exposes the deal's flaws when compared with either the reality of the status quo or how far short it falls of the
Leave campaign promises in 2016.
A course of action is available to us that lets us check whether or not the will of the people has changed over time.
To call this a subversion of democracy is utterly wrong. No one will thank us for dragging the UK out of the EU on a deal
for which the public have shown no enthusiasm.
2018: A Bad Year
2018 is on track to be the worst year for the global equity markets since 2008. The FTSE All-World
index is down 11.8% since the start of the year.
AR Blame Trump and Brexit.
The Standard Model
Higgs in the middle
2018 December 28
The story of how President Putin builds on Brexit to rule the world
President Vladimir Putin of Russia was ambitious to restore the fortunes of the Russian people. As a former intelligence officer in the Soviet Union,
he had watched the collapse of the USSR with dismay and vowed to devote all his energies to restoring the dignity and pride of his people. His
chance came when as president he met weakness and discord in the West.
His primary target was America and his secondary target was Britain ..
2018 December 27
The Age of Brilliant Machines
AlphaZero is a machine-learning algorithm that has mastered chess, shogi, and Go. The algorithm started with no knowledge of the games beyond their
basic rules. It then played against itself millions of times and learned from its mistakes. In a matter of hours, the algorithm became the best
player, human or computer, the world has ever seen.
AlphaZero clearly displays a breed of intellect that humans have not seen before, and that we will be mulling over for a long time
to come. Not only could it have easily defeated all the strongest human masters, it crushed Stockfish, the reigning computer world champion of
chess. In a 100-game match against a truly formidable engine, AlphaZero scored 28 wins and 72 draws.
AlphaZero played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and
took risks. Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. It was humankind's first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.
AlphaZero won by thinking smarter, not faster. It was wiser, knowing what to think about and what to ignore. It developed a style
of play that Garry Kasparov said reflects the truth about the
game. The question now is whether machine learning can help humans discover similar truths about the great unsolved problems of science and
medicine, such as cancer and consciousness.
AlphaZero gives every appearance of having discovered some important principles about chess. But as human beings, we want more than
answers, we want insight. This is going to be a source of tension in our interactions with computers from now on. As machines become ever faster,
a day will come when we can no longer keep up.
This is the golden era of human insight, a glorious interlude between our uncomprehending past and our incomprehensible future.
AR This is the golden era of human insight — I glossed this truth in my book
2018 December 26
The Large Hadron Collider
The New York Times
The LHC shoots subatomic particles around a 27 km electromagnetic racetrack beneath the French-Swiss countryside,
smashing them together, and sifting through the debris for new particles and forces of nature. One reward came in 2012 with the discovery of the
On 2018-12-03, the LHC was powered down. Over the next two years, it will be upgraded to make its beams more intense and its instruments
more sensitive and discerning.
Inside the main ring, some 10 000 superconducting electromagnets guide two beams of protons in opposite directions around the tunnel at
99.99999% of the speed of light, or an energy of 7 TeV. The magnets have a field strength of 8.3 T, generated by an electrical current of 12 kA,
and are bathed in 150 tons of superfluid helium at a temperature of 1.9 K.
The proton beams cross 40 million times per second in each of 4 detectors, giving about 1 billion collisions per second. The detectors
are like 100 Mpx cameras that take 40 million pictures a second. Triggers select and save the data from only about a thousand collision events per
The luminosity of the LHC will increase tenfold by the end of the decade. Luminosity is measured in terms of collisions. It took about
3 quadrillion collisions to confirm the Higgs boson. As of this month, the LHC had logged about 20 quadrillion collisions. The lifetime total should
be around 4 quintillion.
We must soon decide which machines to build after the LHC. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has designed a collider 100 km around that
could reach energies of 100 TeV.
Quantum Communication Is Faster
Quantum communication beats classical communication. Alice can send exponentially less information to Bob to let him answer a question
in a quantum scenario than in a classical scenario.
Imagine Alice has a set of numbered balls. Each ball is randomly colored red or blue. Bob wants to know whether a particular pair of
balls, chosen at random, has the same color or different colors. Alice wants to send Bob the least information she can to ensure that Bob can answer
To do so classically, Alice has to send Bob a number of bits proportional to the square root of the number of balls. But use of qubits
can be more efficient.
In a new lab experiment, Alice and Bob swap laser pulses. Each pulse represents a ball and goes through a beam splitter, which sends
half of it toward Alice and half toward Bob. As a pulse passes by Alice, she can shift its phase to encode whether the ball is red or blue.
Meanwhile Bob encodes information about ball color into his half of the laser pulses. The pulses then converge in another beam splitter
and interfere. The way they interfere shows how the phase of each pulse has been shifted. Bob reads the interference pattern using photon detectors.
Alice's message can answer any question about any pair until Bob reads it. But the act of reading it collapses it, yielding information
about just one pair of balls.
We knew how many classical bits to send to solve the problem. The experiment shows it can be solved with far fewer qubits.
AR We knew this in theory. Now we know it works.
2018 Christmas Day
Peace and Goodwill
Queen Elizabeth II
The Christian message of peace on Earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone. Even with the most deeply held
differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.
Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family, and friendship have been a constant source of personal
comfort and reassurance.
White House: Home Alone
President Trump, from his 10th Christmas Eve tweet: "I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make
a deal on desperately needed Border Security."
Democratic speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement: "It's Christmas Eve
and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos. The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal
Reserve — after he just fired the Secretary of Defense."
AR Some people find peace and renewal in time alone.
On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the Moon saw Earth rising for the first time
Trump's $1 trillion
tax cuts bet fails
as US economy
Mattis resignation letter
Donald Trump: "We have won
against ISIS .. now it's time
for our troops to come back
home." His call to withdraw
from Syria left Washington
in chaos and confusion.
Russian president Putin:
"Donald's right, and I
agree with him."
D-Day + 100
Theresa May drops manifesto
pledges on social care and
education to prepare for
AR How about dropping
Brexit to prepare for
social care and
"Boris Johnson is an epic shit.
I hope he ends badly."
Theresa May, Gollum
2018 Christmas Eve
Cherish the Church
Come with me to the schools, hospices, and care homes where thousands of Christians do good work every day. Seek out the grittiest, grimiest edges of
British life and they are there. They are helping addicts limp to liberty from drugs with infinite patience. They are supporting families who are
mired in debt. They are caring for those in prison cells whom no one else cares for. They are giving shelter and warm meals to the homeless.
Archbishop Justin Welby: "God is incredibly exciting."
2018 December 23
Americans Against Trump
The New York Times
Jim Mattis did his best to preserve and defend the system of global alliances that the United States spent the last 70 years building and leading.
He helped persuade President Trump not to pull out of NATO and worked to reassure Europe.
Mattis offered the same assurances to America's allies in Asia, who are alarmed at China and North Korea. Trump seems unconvinced of
the value of the relationship with South Korea and threatened to withdraw forces there.
Mattis was unable to prevent the US abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, the move of the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,
or the decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Presidents have tremendous power to make national security policy. But Congress also has a role to play, and it now needs to assert
that responsibility forcefully.
Germans Against Hitler
In the old German defence ministry in Berlin, a floor has been restored to the way it was when a group of distinguished conspirators plotted there
to kill Hitler in July 1944. In his new book, Paddy Ashdown
gives these and other Germans who opposed Hitler the honour that is their due.
The first attempt to assassinate Hitler was in 1934 and more than 20 followed. The first military plot was hatched in 1938 but was
aborted because Britain and France were unwilling to support it. Claus von Stauffenberg and his team were well aware of the risks they ran on
20 July 1944.
In 1954, postwar German president Theodor Heuss praised the Stauffenberg team for trying to preserve German honour. Most Germans
now share his view.
2018 December 22
The New York Times
President Trump boasted he would be "proud" to bring parts of the government to a halt if Congress did not hand over $5 billion for his border wall.
By Friday, he was in full attack mode, urging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to go "nuclear" if necessary. Talks collapsed and shutdown
became a certainty.
For most people, uncertainty and disorder are scary. But for Trump, they are cherished friends and strategic assets. Revving up the wall
fight allows him to divert attention from the other drama threatening to swallow him up. His administration sinks further and further into the swamp.
Labour Brexit Policy
The government has suddenly found £4 billion to prepare for no deal. At the same time, police officers have lost their jobs, there are 100,000
vacancies in the NHS, there is a housing crisis, and a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster.
I think we should vote down Theresa May's deal. We should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union in which we can
be proper trading partners.
As a party, about 60% of Labour voters voted remain and about 40% voted leave. We have to recognise why people voted in those directions.
Labour has got to bring all sides together.
Brexit Solves Nothing
Brexit is essentially a project of the hard right of British politics, who want to turn Britain into a lightly regulated, offshore tax haven for the
super-rich, devoid of proper protections for workers, and one which seeks to dump the blame for the UK's problems on immigrants.
Labour should stop pretending there is a good Brexit deal and we should certainly not be sponsoring this project. Brexit solves nothing.
Labour Is Incapable
Jeremy Corbyn has finally come off the fence he's been sat on for the past two years. But he's come down on the same side as Theresa May.
The Labour party is incapable of providing opposition to the worst UK government that most people can remember.
2018 Winter Solstice
Mad Dog Gone, Trump Unbound
With the resignation of defense secretary Jim Mattis, Donald Trump is at last a president unbound. Mattis left little doubt that he viewed the president
as a threat to the American world order.
Trump is convinced that his political survival depends on securing his conservative base. He rejected the stopgap budget deal because it
failed to fund the border wall with Mexico. He criticized the Fed because its policy is dampening the stock market, a barometer of his success. And
he pulled troops out of Syria because it fulfilled a campaign promise to extract the United States from foreign wars.
Republican senator Marco Rubio said the Mattis resignation "makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy
errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries."
On several occasions, Mattis and others stalled Trump on his desire to pull out of Syria. But with Christmas coming, Trump decided to
pull the trigger now, hoping for a quick win.
AR Globally, Vlad Putin and Xi Jinping are now the adults in the room. The West is in danger.
European Parliament Can Block Brexit
The European Parliament has to ratify the Brexit deal. But EP president Antonio Tajani says the rules for EP involvement in implementing the deal are
The problem is the power of the EU-UK joint committee, which will implement and apply the withdrawal agreement, including extending the
transition period and applying the Irish backstop, without consulting the EP. The European Commission made the withdrawal agreement and said MEPs
will only get an annual report on its implementation. Tajani wants to add a passage to the agreement giving the EP more say.
EP Brexit steering group member Elmar Brok: "Having a say is a condition for us to ratify the agreement."
AR Has the UK government seriously thought of this?
Exit From Brexit
It is less than 100 days until Brexit. As each day passes, my respect for the political class is in danger of turning to disgust. I see no leadership
and no plan.
In schools I have heard the same messages time and again: We are scared about how Brexit will affect our futures and if we were given
a chance to make our voices heard we would vote to stay in Europe. There is no deal that is better than the one we already have.
AR We ♥ EU
2018 December 20
Worse Than I Thought
Charles M. Blow
When I first wrote about Donald Trump, I had no idea how immoral he actually is.
This week, the Trump Foundation agreed to dissolve under pressure from the New York attorney general, who found that the foundation existed to serve
Trump's interests and engaged in illegal coordination with his presidential campaign.
Nearly every aspect of Trump's life is now under investigation for wrongdoing.
▸ I could not have predicted the extraordinary lengths to which he would go to obstruct justice
and undermine the rule of law, nor that he would do these things in full view, for all to see.
▸ I could not have predicted, when I first wrote that he was a pathological liar, that his rate of
lying would increase with his time in office, rather than decrease.
▸ I could not have predicted the huge number of contacts between his people and Russians during
the campaign, or how many were charged, indicted, or convicted of lying about them.
I couldn't have predicted any of it.
My Advice for Theresa May
Only weeks after the 2016 Brexit referendum, I wrote in the Harvard Business Review on the false promises upon which the Leavers had built their case.
The UK government has to sell a lesser deal or end up with no deal at all.
Theresa May focused too much on her own political problems and ignored EU fears and constraints. She indulged expectations based on the false
promises and adopted the Leaver narrative. To rescue the process, she must stop acting like an agent and start acting like a mediator:
1 Think through the endgame. If the deal is defeated, the hard Brexiteers prefer a no-deal Brexit
to a second referendum. May almost certainly prefers a referendum to driving off a cliff.
2 Lead and negotiate honestly. Admit publicly that the deal has serious problems. Whatever anyone
wants, no one has explained how the Irish backstop is to be avoided or how it will end.
3 Convert honesty into negotiation leverage. The less people like the deal, the more likely they will
be to accept a second referendum. This offers leverage with MPs who refuse to back the deal.
4 Use that leverage. May should announce her intention to hold a second referendum if she cannot
get enough support for her deal. If the deal is defeated, follow through. It helps avoid no deal.
May needs to do something to break the impasse.
AR A new vote would require further months to implement — more chaos to come!
2018 December 19
Thomas L. Friedman
The middle classes that powered US and EU growth were built on high-wage, middle-skilled jobs. But robotics and AI and outsourcing and Chinese imports
have wiped out a lot of them. Now there are high-wage, high-skilled jobs and low-wage, low-skilled jobs, plus a considerable cohort of people with
stagnant incomes and burning resentments.
When you challenge all the things that anchor people and then amp it all up with social networks, you can get a really ferocious blowback.
It is going to take extraordinary US and EU leadership to come up with a strategy for these grievances. But that leadership is not present.
I get why a slim majority of UK citizens voted for Brexit, as it was sold to them. But to watch the Conservative party hacks who pushed that lie continue
to demand that their prime minister deliver this fantasy Brexit in the face of the reality that it's impossible is to watch a once-sane country
write a suicide note in a moment of irrationality and then argue endlessly over how to carry it out. They've got to know that disconnecting
in a connected world is nuts.
I don't think there are national solutions to this problem.
2018 December 18
Battle of Brexit
The UK cabinet has decided to ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The government will spend an extra £2 billion on contingency planning.
UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson promises to hold 3,500 service personnel at readiness for any contingencies arising from Brexit.
Just 101 days to Brexit. Theresa May has postponed the Commons vote on her withdrawal agreement until next year because she knows she will lose it.
Jeremy Corbyn has not tabled a motion of no confidence in the government because he wants to avoid a second referendum.
Corbyn is a closet Brexiteer. A zombie prime minister is shadowed by a leader offering only an illusion of opposition. Both see the People's Vote
campaign as a sinister plot and neither is truly committed to their public stand on Brexit.
Crucial domestic policy reforms are on hold because the government is preoccupied with Brexit.
At a time when the UK needs leadership, it has no
government and no opposition.
British business has had its worst year since the financial crisis: Estimated GDP growth for 2018 is 1.2%. Companies are hardly investing at all.
The weakness of the pound is driving inflation. Just three months before Brexit, disagreements over which way to go are as wide as ever.
The UK government admits that Brexit will damage business. Uncertainty since the referendum has made British GDP an estimated 2% lower than it would
have been with a vote to remain. The cost to the Treasury is estimated at £500 million per week.
The NIESR conservatively estimates that British GDP in 2030 will be 4% lower than if there were no Brexit. Remaining in the EU would be better
2018 December 17
Brexit: Commons Vote
BBC News, UCT 1652
Theresa May has told Parliament that MPs will vote on the Brexit deal in the week beginning
14 January 2019.
Brexit Makes EU Stronger
Britain's departure may turn out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to the EU.
Once the UK finally limps out, the EU will not fall to pieces. Eurosceptic fantasies have been brutally exposed by reality as the ongoing car crash
is mercilessly mocked in Europe. Far from weakening the EU, as some Leavers hoped, Brexit may only have made it stronger.
AR This Full English Brexit is a sick dog's vomit breakfast.
2018 December 16
The Lord of the Rings
Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Peter Jackson's
film adaptations of
The Lord of the Rings,
has released a spoof video combining the characters of Theresa May and Tolkien's Gollum.
Leaving aside the Bible and the Koran, The Lord of the Rings is the most popular book in the history of publishing, having sold more than
150 million copies since its publication in 1954. Its influence is ubiquitous from Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien spent most of his life, to
Silicon Valley, which is full of Tolkien enthusiasts. But nearly all Tolkien's millions of readers seem somehow to have missed the fact that his
fiction is founded on a profoundly conservative philosophy.
Tolkien hit on the title in 1938 during the Munich crisis. He was contemptuous of Hitler but much more suspicious of Stalin. As war drew
near, Tolkien reflected that he had "a loathing of being on any side that includes Russia" and believed that Stalin was probably more responsible for
Tolkien, 1941: "People in this land seem not even yet to realise that in the Germans we have enemies whose virtues (and they are virtues) of obedience and
patriotism are greater than ours in the mass. I have in this War a burning private grudge against .. Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying,
and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true
AR I see Tolkien as a British admirer of Nietzsche and Wagner, and The Lord of the Rings as an English homage to
Also sprach Zarathustra and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Recasting those forbidding works as a children's novel with a happy ending
(and Zarathustra as Sauron) was a stroke of genius. Tolkien read English at my college in Oxford.
2018 December 15
COP24, Katowice, Poland, Saturday — Negotiators have finally secured agreement on a range of measures that will make the Paris climate pact
operational in 2020. The agreement aims to limit global warming to less than 2 K.
China's climate chief Xie Zhenhua: "Climate change is the greatest challenge of mankind, in front
of it no country is spared, and destinies are shared."
Black Hole Navigation
Quasars are intense beacons of light surrounding supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. Astronomers can pinpoint quasars accurately from the
radio waves they emit by using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).
The International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF-3) is fixed in place by 303 of the most compact and stable quasars. On average, the angular location
of the quasars is accurate to within 150 picorad. The frame is used for all position measurements in astronomy.
The center of the frame is set at the center of mass of our solar system, with an NS axis parallel to Earth's polar axis on 2000-01-01. ICRF-3 also
includes about 4000 other quasars distributed around the sky as reference points for navigation.
We can detect any deviations from the planned course of a spacecraft by observing its angular position relative to a quasar. On Earth, tracking
variations in Earth's rotation speed relative to the ICRF lets us know when to insert leap seconds into UCT.
Up to now, VLBI was our only way to measure extragalactic sources accurately. But in April, the Gaia mission published a catalog of the same sources
in optical wavelengths. This can be used to further refine the ICRF.
AR If the ICRF is taken as fixed, we can measure whether the universe is rotating and hence whether Gödel's solution
to the Einstein field equations may be true.
NASA / SWRI / MSSS / GERALD EICHSTÄDT / SEÁN DORAN
Juno image of Jupiter clouds
Church of England bishops
are praying for "courage,
integrity and clarity for
Völker der Welt,
schaut auf diese Frau!
Theresa May verdient
A white hole
"The problem is not May.
The problem is Brexit."
UK in crisis:
Theresa May, Gollum
Peter Brookes 2016
Boris Johnson dubbed "most
irresponsible politician the
country has seen for many
years" at Economist awards
"Mrs May should have gone
down with her deal."
Friedrich Merz, AKK
Anne Will mit AKK
People's Vote UK
Something fundamental changed in British politics this week. Theresa May can now stop worrying about her own survival and start acting in the national
interest. She should offer parliament a vote on a second referendum with two options: her deal or remain. The prime minister should stare down the
silly boys in parliament and challenge them to grow up.
The UK and the EU are sleepwalking toward a no-deal Brexit. It would be insane, but, as WW1 showed, the insane can easily happen. The UK would become
a rogue state, its reputation for reliability and reason would perish, and the lives of millions of citizens and the operations of countless
businesses would be plunged into turmoil. Or let the people vote again.
I hope those who want a second referendum are ready for what they will unleash. Brexit voters have had two years being called stupid, racist, old,
deluded, "gammons" who should hurry up and die so Remainers can drape EU flags on their graves. Their campaign will be of furious betrayal,
righteous anger: "We're not dead yet!"
AR 2019: Anarchy in the UK
2018 December 14
Americans are not getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. With continued growth in emissions, annual losses
in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.
Global emissions are forecast to go up by 2.7% this year. Instead of reining them in, the Trump administration would unleash more by replacing the Clean
Power Plan with a rule that could allow power plants to unload 12 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead of controlling fuel emissions,
the administration is rolling back fuel economy standards that the auto industry had embraced.
Future generations will measure us by whether we acted. Congress should send Trump legislation addressing this crisis, or we will all be judged failures.
US Foreign Policy
Donald Trump has so far avoided starting new wars. But his potential to mess up remains epic, particularly with China. The irony is that George W. Bush
made many of the mistakes of which Trump stands accused. Trump dismisses Europe, sidelines NATO, and revels in a unilateral America, but Bush did
Trump is also accused of incompetence, but again Bush 43 was worse. The magic of Trump is that by uniting the elites in revulsion against his abrasive
style, he has restored their moral sense. On China, Trump and the
are ominously coming around to the view that it must be confronted.
EU: Brexit Deal Frozen
Jean-Claude Juncker: "We have to bring down the temperature. These attacks coming from Westminster against Europe and the European
Commission will not be responded to in the same way by Europe and the European Commission, although I would like to do it."
Donald Tusk: "Yesterday's conclusions are quite clear I think and we have to treat it as a good sign, I mean, that we are ready to
reconfirm our assurances and our goodwill and good faith when it comes to the so-called backstop."
Brexit: No Exit
There is a good case for a new Brexit referendum. Now at least voters can know what they are voting on. In 2016, that was not remotely the case.
But a second referendum campaign could be even uglier than the first. And it would break British society if Remainers won by a narrow margin. The losers
would say they had been robbed and would take to the streets in fury.
Europhobic populists have been harassing UK governments for decades. Their wrath would be fearful if their beloved Brexit were snatched from their grasp.
The UK government would face riots each time it made any concessions within the EU.
The idea that British political clowns like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Jacob Rees-Mogg might get hosed in a second referendum is tempting, as is
the prospect of keeping a major country in the club. But it may be better for all concerned if the UK first spends a few years out in the cold.
These years would be unpleasant. Britain is a pipsqueak beside America, China, and Europe. It would need years to make better trade deals than the EU
A humbled Britain could then apply to rejoin the EU, accepting the EU is not all bad and the UK is no world power. Brits are not there yet.
The New York Times
In the Westminster parliament, Brexit is often seen as a domestic issue with no thought of other interests. Rare is the politician who suggests the UK
should welcome a strong role in Europe. The party challenge to Theresa May has not helped. The options are still:
✗ The deal, as is
✗ No deal, exit
✗ No Brexit
AR Britain is cruising for a bruising.
2018 December 13
In a black hole, general relativity says matter falls onto a central singularity. There we need a new theory.
Space is composed of discrete quanta, which are small but finite. Falling matter can squeeze into a Planck star, but no more. Then quantum gravity lets the entire spacetime geometry of the black hole bounce out as a white hole.
A white hole is time-reversed black hole. Whereas a black hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to enter but not to exit, a white hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to exit but not to enter.
General relativity allows white holes. A minimal adjustment in the solution of its equations lets the geometry of a black hole interior continue into a white hole. Quantum mechanics allows it too.
The white hole is where the black hole was, in its future. The other side of the center of a black hole can be in the future of the hole. In the first part of its life, the hole is black and matter falls in. In the second, it is white and matter bounces out.
Quantum tunneling lets the horizon switch from black to white. In classical theory a black hole is eternal, but in quantum theory black holes evaporate and shrink. As they shrink, the probability that they tunnel into a white hole increases.
Time is flexible in general relativity. Seen from the outside, the internal evolution of the hole appears like a bounce in super slow motion. The holes we see in the sky may be objects that collapse and bounce back out, seen in slo-mo.
Seen from inside the hole there is no singularity, and seen from outside a black hole is not eternal. Rather, at some time the black hole turns white and whatever fell in pops out.
Our universe might have bounced out from a previous collapse. The cosmic bounce is a bounce from black to white. Tiny white holes in dark matter could have formed before the bounce. Spacetime might be very crumpled, with each white hole like a long spike out in its geometry.
The arrow of time might be a perspectival effect related to our location outside all the holes.
2018 December 12
May Wins Confidence Vote
BBC News, UCT 2100
UK prime minister Theresa May won the vote of confidence in her leadership by 200 votes to 117.
Brexit: No Confidence
BBC News, UCT 0753
UK prime minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership today between 1800 and 2000 UCT. Conservative MPs will vote following
receipt by 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady of the required 48 letters calling for a contest.
Bet No Deal
The chances of no deal are very high indeed. Looked at another way, the things we have to do now to secure a deal are starting to look forbiddingly
difficult. What a disaster. What a disgrace.
AR I'd better starting ramping up plans for the Ross Brexodus.
A whole insect world is dying. Measured by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased by 75% over 27 years.
If you look at midsummer population peaks, the drop is 82%.
The German study indicates a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe. There are documented downward slides of various kinds of bees, moths,
butterflies, and beetles. A 2014 review synthesized the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining,
on average by 45%.
A million known species of insects represent perhaps a fifth of the global diversity of insects. The current loss of biodiversity is driven partly by
climate change and habitat degradation. Insects are also dealing with herbicides and pesticides, along with the loss of meadows, forests, and wild
patches to human expansion.
Ecosystems can unravel. Functional extinction occurs when animals and plants are still present but too few to affect how the ecosystem works. Since
1970, terrestrial populations of wild land animals have declined on average by 60%. Wild mammals have declined by over 80%. Instead we have humans
Some insects will learn to thrive in new environments. Agricultural monocultures allow some pests to reach unprecedented population levels. We need
much more data to better understand the how and why of the ups and downs.
Europe is acting much faster than the United States to address the decline of insects. Hearings have been held on protecting insect biodiversity in
the German Bundestag and the European Parliament.
AR We all need to get real on protecting the natural environment.
Vibrations: A Theory of Consciousness
The resonance theory of consciousness says synchronized vibrations are at the heart of not only human consciousness but of physical reality more
All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating,
resonating, at various frequencies. Ultimately, all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields.
Pascal Fries has explored how gamma, theta, and beta waves vibrate together in the brain to give rise to human consciousness. Gamma waves are
typically defined as about 30−90 Hz, theta 4−7 Hz, and beta 12.5−30 Hz. The three work together for various
types of human consciousness.
Fries calls his concept communication through coherence, CTC. Neural synchronization allows for smooth communication between neural groups.
Without coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and have much less effect.
The resonance theory of consciousness can help explain not only mammalian consciousness but also consciousness more broadly. All things may be
viewed as at least dimly conscious. Panpsychism is an increasingly accepted position on the nature of consciousness.
Panpsychists say consciousness and matter are two sides of the same coin. The mind associated with most of the matter in our universe is generally
very simple. Biological organisms leverage faster information exchange to become more conscious than rocks.
Communication between resonating structures is key for consciousness to expand beyond the dim glimmer we expect in rocks. Higher consciousness
results from a shared resonance among many less conscious constituents. The speed of the resonant waves sets the size of a conscious entity.
A resonance theory of consciousness gets to the heart of the mind and the evolution of physical systems. Reality and consciousness are all about
AR Essentially the theory I've held for some 20 years — see
2018 December 11
Brexit Fail: A Cathartic Collapse
Theresa May's vote was set to be the cathartic moment when the UK finally faced the Brexit truth. The cataclysmic collapse of her deal would have
wiped the slate clean, freeing everyone to rethink. Hers was the only deal possible if the red line is stopping immigration and free movement.
Every day, a referendum looks more likely. The Brexiteer threat that any attempt to run another referendum would cause rebellion, mob rule and riots on
the streets, is project fear. The country will not be intimidated by the absurd idea of people rioting against getting the chance to express
themselves in a democratic vote.
AR Embrace EU immigrants as a solution, not a problem.
Brexit Folly: Taking Back Control
A hard Brexit would let the UK take back control of trade policy. The Treasury has been inundated already with special pleading to abolish VAT on a range
of specific goods and services, which is illegal inside the EU but not outside. This is the freedom of the alcoholic presented with a drink.
National governments unconstrained by international agreements tend to go for more state intervention. EU membership restrains state involvement in the
economy. After a decade of dreadful UK productivity growth, there is reawakened interest in a more interventionist industrial policy.
The UK economy grew more slowly than almost all its competitors in the three decades after WW2. Since then, the UK has failed to invest enough in
infrastructure, to run an effective education system, to design an efficient tax system, to build enough houses in the right places, to support
innovation, and to improve management capacity. The EU is innocent.
AR Parliament is too drunk on power to take back control.
Brexit Options: Almost All Red Alert
Risk assessors use traffic lights to grade risk: red for disaster looming, amber for watch out, green for maybe OK. Almost every Brexit option is red:
a vote of no confidence, a general election, a Labour victory, Jeremy Corbyn negotiating with the EU, a falling pound, panic on the markets, all red.
Just one choice is amber: Theresa May's proposed deal.
A second referendum is also red. Most opinion polls suggest there has been little movement among leavers and remainers. The outrage of those who lose
might bring violence onto the streets.
AR Defy the Brexiteer threat. Remaining in the EU is green.
2018 December 10
Brexit Chaos: May Calls Off Vote
BBC News, UCT 1635
UK prime minister Theresa May has called off tomorrow's Commons vote on her Brexit deal following advice that she would lose heavily. House
speaker John Bercow called on the government to give MPs a vote on whether that vote should be cancelled, saying it was the "right and
obvious" thing to do given how angry some MPs were about the cancellation.
AR She is still in denial on a new referendum.
Brexit Ruling: UK Can Cancel It
The European Court of Justice has ruled the UK can cancel Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members. The ECJ ruled this
could be done without altering UK terms of membership.
"So an extension of Article 50 to allow time for another vote,
followed by revocation of Article 50 if the outcome is Remain seems to be an option that is now open to the House of Commons."
AR Well said, Nicola, that is indeed the best plan.
European Union: Can AKK Save It?
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is the new leader of the CDU. AKK was the candidate of the party's women's and youth organizations, and was chosen by
Angela Merkel, whose chancellorship expires in 2021.
Merkel is a Protestant from Prussia. AKK is a Catholic from the Saarland, wedged between France and Germany. Merkel is devoid of convictions;
AKK is a European conservative. Merkel came in at the top as a token East German woman after unification; AKK slogged her way up through
the ranks and led governments at local and state levels.
All the European heavyweights except Germany are paralyzed by populism. Merkel will leave the mess to AKK to sort out.
AKK will go the extra mile to preserve the EU.
AR Will German populists defeat AKK in 2021?
2018 December 9
UN climate conference, Katowice, Saturday — The United States and Russia have allied with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to reject a motion to welcome
the UN report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 K. Instead, they said it should merely be noted.
Union of Concerned Scientists director of strategy and policy Alden Meyer: "It is troubling .. Donald Trump .. takes a personal interest in dissing
scientists. But the science won't go away."
AR Big oil prefers profits to peace.
The New York Times
In the narrative that special counsel Robert Mueller and New York prosecutors are building, Donald Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in
Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered
hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety.
Justice Department officials say that if Mueller found evidence that the president broke the law, he would not be indicted while in office. Trump's
lawyers fear Mueller is trying to cast him as an unindicted co-conspirator.
AR President Trottel is doomed.
The Commons vote on Tuesday will not be delayed, says Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay. He also says Theresa May could stay in post if, as expected,
MPs reject her Brexit plan. May says rejection could lead to a general election, and there is a "very real risk of no Brexit".
AR Sounds good.
2018 December 8
Black holes appear to stay a constant size as viewed from the outside, but their interiors keep growing in volume essentially forever. Leonard Susskind
suggests this is because they are steadily increasing in complexity.
According to general relativity, their inward gravitational collapse never stops. Their interior volume grows bigger and bigger with time as space
stretches toward the center point. Imagine a black hole as a funnel that gets ever deeper, so that infalling stuff never reaches the singularity at
the bottom. In reality, a black hole is a funnel that stretches inward in 3D.
Susskind suggests the evolving quantum property of a black hole that underlies its growing volume is its complexity, or the number of computations
needed to recover its initial quantum state. After its formation, as stuff inside the black hole interacts, the information about the initial state
becomes ever more scrambled, raising complexity.
Using toy models that represent black holes as holograms, Susskind and his collaborators have shown that the complexity and volume of black holes both
grow at the same rate. So not only do black holes store all the information they can on their surface area, they also grow in complexity as fast as
the laws of physics allow.
Researchers are still puzzling over the idea.
Mars InSight 2.2 m solar panel imaged by Instrument Deployment Camera
(AKK) ist neue CDU-Chefin
AR Merkel mini-me,
German DAX now
in bear market
"The only realistic way to
stabilize carbon emissions is
enhanced R&D in the hope
that it will bring the cost
of clean energy down"
Anil Ananthaswamy on a
new quantum paradox
Melania Trump is FLOTUS
and was born and raised
in the Yugoslav republic
Go Gal Not
Theresa May says Britain will
walk away from the military
side of the EU Galileo sat-nav
system, fearing lost influence
after Brexit, and build a
new system compatible
with the US GPS.
AR Wasteful duplication
Personal reactions recorded by Mass Observation in 1938:
"It's a fucking mess, ain't it?"
"No one knows what'll happen."
"I can't understand it properly, but it doesn't seem too good to me."
A Leave voter on BBC compared the Brexit negotiations to afternoon tea and biscuits. He said the
UK had behaved like "a soggy rich tea" in its negotiations with the "solid Hobnob" that was the EU:
"If we'd have sent a Hobnob with chocolate on we'd have won."
A man in 1938: "Keep out of foreign entanglements, that's best. Old England's the best country
in the world."
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
2018 December 7
London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMind announces two research successes: the strongest game-playing AI so far and the world's most
powerful predictor of the shape of protein molecules. Its AlphaFold system won an international competition to predict the 3D structure of
proteins from their genetic sequence. Google owns DeepMind and will develop its Streams business, an AI-based assistant for nurses and
doctors, to generate revenues from health systems.
An algorithm that masters chess, shogi, and Go
David Silver et al.
AlphaZero can achieve superhuman performance in many challenging games. Starting from random play and given no domain knowledge except the game rules,
AlphaZero convincingly defeated a world champion program in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess), as well as Go.
AlphaZero replaces the handcrafted knowledge and domain-specific augmentations used in traditional game-playing programs with deep neural networks,
a general-purpose reinforcement learning algorithm, and a general-purpose tree search algorithm.
AlphaGo Zero used a convolutional neural network architecture. Its hyperparameters were tuned by Bayesian optimization. In AlphaZero, we reuse the
same hyperparameters, algorithm settings, and network architecture for all games without game-specific tuning. The only exceptions are the
exploration noise and the learning rate schedule.
We trained separate instances of AlphaZero for chess, shogi, and Go. Training proceeded for 700,000 steps starting from randomly initialized
parameters. During training only, 5000 first-generation tensor processing units (TPUs) were used to generate self-play games, and 16
second-generation TPUs were used to train the neural networks. Training lasted for approximately 9 hours in chess, 12 hours in shogi, and
13 days in Go.
We evaluated the fully trained instances of AlphaZero against Stockfish, Elmo, and the previous version of AlphaGo Zero in chess, shogi, and Go,
▸ In Go, AlphaZero defeated AlphaGo Zero, winning 61% of games.
▸ In chess, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish, winning 155 games and losing 6 games out of 1000.
▸ In shogi, AlphaZero defeated Elmo, winning 98.2% of games when playing black and 91.2% overall.
AlphaZero searches just 60,000 positions per second in chess and shogi, compared with 60 million for Stockfish and 25 million for Elmo. AlphaZero
may compensate for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus much more selectively on the most promising
AlphaZero is a generic reinforcement learning and search algorithm that achieved superior results within a few hours, searching as many positions,
given no domain knowledge except the game rules. These results bring us a step closer to a system that can learn to master any game.
2018 December 6
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke in Brussels: "We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well."
He tried to convince America's allies that a new global liberal order would arise from the spread of America First imitations. The west should fear
the rise of China and Russia. The best way to confront such adversaries is to abandon multilateralism, he said.
Pompeo said bodies such as the EU, UN, World Bank, and the IMF should be reformed or eliminated: "The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly
are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. But was that ever really true?"
He said no and listed treaties and bodies the Trump administration has abandoned. These include the Paris deal on climate change, the Iran nuclear
deal, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The next target, he hinted, would be the WTO. Trump sees the WTO as a globalist plot. To Brexiteers, the WTO is an ocean on which the UK should
gloriously set sail.
Brussels received Pompeo's speech in silence.
2018 December 5
Seven Steps to Save the Planet
To give ourselves a good chance of avoiding 1.5 K of global warming, we must hit peak greenhouse gas emissions soon and taper them down to net zero
by about 2050.
How many more tons (Mg) of CO2 can we afford to dump into the atmosphere?
We think 770 Pg gives us an evens chance of limiting warming to 1.5 K. For a two-thirds chance, we must go down to 570 Pg. Annual global emissions
are currently around 40 Pg. So:
1 Kill fossil fuels
We are making rapid progress in wind and solar electricity generation. Over a tenth of global energy comes from modern renewable sources. We need
to reach at least a half by 2050, by decarbonizing electricity generation, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and pricing for environmental
2 Travel light
More than 90% of transport is powered by oil and just 3% by renewables. Transport causes around a quarter of global emissions, growing by about
2.5% a year. Electric vehicles, better fuel efficiency, and use of biofuels can cut a lot. The rest can be done by traveling less.
3 Rebuild everything
Buildings give rise to about a quarter of global emissions, mostly for lighting, heating, cooling, elevators, office machines, and so on. A third
of the emissions are for heating and cooking. New buildings must be constructed sustainably, with less concrete and steel, preferably by
4 A new industrial revolution
Industrial emissions must be cut by around 80% by phasing out coal, increasing efficiency, and electrification. We need massive investment in R&D
to roll out new processes for making cement, steel, aluminum, and so on. For needed fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help.
5 Reap what we sow
Land use accounts for about a quarter of carbon emissions. Land can be a carbon sink but we need it to grow food. We need to intensify agriculture
and reduce our consumption of foods whose production results in lots of greenhouse gas emissions, such as those that come from cattle.
6 Suck, not blow
Some emissions are from sources we do not know how to eliminate and others are too hard to get rid of entirely. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)
technologies can help. Planting forests is the simplest way. Another approach is bioenergy with CCS.
7 Change ourselves
Power generation, transport, industry, buildings, and agriculture all involve our own actions. Change means sacrifices: driving less, flying less,
consuming less meat, having fewer children.
One way or another, big change is coming.
2018 December 4
Q What kind of party would support a leader who is not only evidently corrupt and seemingly in the pocket of foreign
dictators, but also routinely denies facts and tries to criminalize anyone who points them out?
A The kind of the party that long ago committed itself to denying the facts on climate change and criminalizing the
scientists reporting those facts. The Republican party is dominated by climate deniers, even as the damage from a warming planet becomes more
and more obvious.
Donald Trump is the culmination of where his party has been going for years.
AR Big Oil, big money, bigoted politics.
1 The UK government has been found in contempt of parliament for the first time ever. The government has been forced to
publish its full legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal.
2 Parliament has voted against the government for an amendment that will ensure MPs can vote in favour of a plan B option
in January if Theresa May's deal gets voted down.
3 The UK can withdraw its notification to leave the EU without first seeking EU permission, according to European Court
of Justice legal advice.
AR A way is opening to stop the Brexit juggernaut.
The political crisis has created tensions between old friends, and within families, such as few of us have ever experienced.
Sir Michael Howard recalls the Suez crisis of 1956: "Suez
happened, and was appallingly divisive, but then was over. Brexit will go on and on."
Tories perceived in Irish home rule, which finally resulted in the partition of Ireland in 1922, a threat to the integrity of the UK, which might in
turn adumbrate the unravelling of the British Empire. The matter in dispute today is less profound only because the UK is a much less important
place. But to those of us who live here, what is taking place seems so serious that it is hard to sit across a table even with friends of long
standing who welcome Brexit.
To those who view the leading Brexiteers as gods, prospective deliverers of our nation from the heathen across the Channel, I cannot imagine what
arguments we might advance that would change their minds. They consider it worth accepting any financial burden short of selling the horses to
escape the thraldom of Brussels.
Israeli historian Avi Shlaim considers Brexit a graver strategic disaster
for the UK than was Suez.
AR Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King says Theresa May's Brexit deal is like Neville Chamberlain's appeasement
of Adolf Hitler.
When Theresa May was home secretary, she promised to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants and sent Go Home vans to tour ethnically
The government's white paper on immigration has been delayed yet again, so MPs will have no idea what will replace the free movement of people when
they give their verdict on the Brexit deal in next week's vote in parliament.
There is profound disagreement at the top of the Conservative party about the meaning of the referendum result and what kind of country the UK
should be after leaving the EU. For the Home Office, the immigration system should be about economics rather than identity politics. For the
prime minister, immigration is more about culture than GDP.
The only red line that has survived May's negotiations with the EU is the end of free movement.
AR I say drop May and keep free movement.
2018 December 3
UNO Climate Conference, Katowice, Poland
German politicians hope for progress: "Protecting the climate is a question of survival for humanity."
Saboteur in Chief
Donald Trump wears his most contemptible qualities as crown jewels. He uses them to distract us from the slow, boring, apparently mundane but deeply
insidious sabotaging of government. His project is not to administer the government of the United States but to bring it into disrepute.
America has a permanent public service of two million employees, but the top layers of each department and institution are made up of four thousand
In August 2016, Trump was enraged to discover that the head of his transition team, Chris Christie, had raised several million dollars to meet the
campaign's legal obligations to start planning to take over the government after the presidential election. He yelled at Christie: "You're stealing
my money! You're stealing my fucking money! What is this? .. Fuck the law. I don't give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money."
As of October 2018, Trump has failed even to put forward a nominee for 139 of the top 704 positions requiring confirmation by the Senate.
Another way to wreck American government is to appoint the worst possible person. The head of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) should have a strong scientific background. Barry Myers has no scientific credentials and runs a company that profits from NOAA weather
data by marketing it for paying clients. Trump nominated Myers as head of NOAA.
I'm done with the pretence that the argument about Brexit is a subtle jurisprudential discussion about sovereignty, or an exciting debate about the
business plan for UK plc.
The most significant factor in the leave vote was anxiety about the number of people coming to the UK. That's why Theresa May was so uncompromising last
week when urged by cabinet colleagues that it was not too late to reconsider the impact of tighter immigration policy on British companies. An end
to free movement, she said, was a red line.
For decades there was a political consensus that the most important metric was economic prosperity. The political parties were as one in their conviction
that nothing much was possible without a strong economy. Brexit shows that immigration is now central to the whole debate, which is less about wealth
or sovereignty than national identity.
Beneath all the talk of control and global Britain is an unpleasant nativism. There is no respectable evidence that immigration has had more than a
marginal impact upon public service capacity, wage levels, or net welfare costs. But many Britons don't much like people of foreign extraction and
don't want many more of them around the place.
We live in an interdependent world. Those who promise that leaving the EU will deliver control are really promising an absurd and horrible vision of
2018 December 2
America Versus China
The New York Times
The United States and China have called a truce in their trade war. US president Donald Trump agreed to hold off on new tariffs and Chinese president
Xi Jinping pledged to increase Chinese purchases of American products. The compromise averted a breakdown, but the two sides remain far apart on
basic issues of market access and trade policy.
George H.W. Bush
In a meeting with US president Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina, Chinese president Xi Jinping praised the role of former US president George
H.W. Bush in helping to improve China-US relations.
Following Nixon's 1972 visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing, Bush became US envoy there in 1974 and met with several key Chinese leaders,
including Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as numerous military and diplomatic heads.
Bush was elected as POTUS 41 in 1988. Following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989, his administration imposed sanctions on China. Behind
the scenes, Bush reached out to smooth relations: "My long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the
crises without derailing Sino-American relations."
When Bush was looking to build consensus for action against Iraq in 1991, China chose not to use its UN veto power. Later, during his dozens of
post-presidency visits to China, Bush was greeted with reverence as a great old friend of China.
Bush: "I love the Chinese people. One of my dreams for our world is that these two powerful giants will continue working toward a full partnership
and friendship that will bring peace and prosperity to people everywhere."
2018 December 1
The Bank of England Brexit apocalypse scenario — 8% economic contraction, interest rates at 5.5%, fall in sterling below parity with the dollar,
net emigration of 100,000 a year, 30% dive in house prices — is a tail possibility, says BoE governor Mark Carney.
Buried in appendix A of the BoE document is a milder no-deal scenario in which the UK reverts to WTO rules after a smooth transition in January 2021.
Sterling falls by 8.5%, the UK takes a net 85,000 immigrants a year, and the economy is 5.25% smaller than remaining in the EU at the end of 2023. But
appendix A does not solve the Irish border issue.
Justine Greening has a roadmap for a second referendum on May 30. Labour is edging toward pushing for a vote and Nigel Farage endorses one. Greening
proposes a poll with three options: remain, leave with the present deal, or leave with no deal.
Theresa May's deal is dreadful. An extension of the transition deadline for trade negotiations would probably trigger another political crisis and
risk another apocalypse scenario.
Mathematics of Evolution
Genetic algorithms use the principles of evolution to engineer new designs. They test random solutions to a problem and then combine them with random
mutations to produce a second generation of solutions, which they test, and so on. Many iterations later, they return a fit solution.
Genetic programming evolves software to write programs that solve problems efficiently. Its methods involve a mathematical theory of complexity and
randomness. Algorithmic information theory (AIT) takes the idea that it can be computationally easier to describe how to generate something than to
AIT says the probability of producing some types of outputs is far greater when randomness operates at the level of the program describing it rather
than at the level of the output itself. In this way, complex structures can be more easily produced by chance. But the algorithmic complexity
(a.k.a. Kolmogorov complexity) of a given output is not computable.
Gregory Chaitin: "Mathematically, it's a simple, beautiful measure of complexity, but it looked unapproachable for real-world applications."
In 2012, Chaitin described how evolution can be seen as a random walk through software space. The mutations along that walk follow a distribution based
on Kolmogorov complexity. But he had no way to test it.
Hector Zenil uses Kolmogorov complexity as a metric for analyzing the complexity of biological networks, such as those that model gene regulation or
protein interactions in cells. The algorithmic information content of a network is approximated, then a mutation is introduced to the network and
its effect on the Kolmogorov complexity tested. Moving the network toward greater Kolmogorov complexity tends to increase the number of functions
the system can perform and makes it more sensitive to perturbation.
Evolving artificial genetic networks toward certain targets by biasing the mutations in favor of lower algorithmic complexity causes the networks to
evolve toward solutions significantly faster. Some regions become less prone to mutation and may have evolved to be simpler, immediately
suggesting genes. Perhaps biological evolution operates via such computational rules.
Chaitin: "The idea of thinking about life as evolving software is fertile."
AR I was first excited by all this when I worked at Springer.